Between man and manatee
Wildlife Refuge to present results of study of Three Sisters Springs
By Abdon Sidibe
Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 9:55 pm
Two retired scientists are putting the finishing touches on a study regarding the impacts of human/manatee interactions in the springs’ area of Three Sisters Springs.
Carl Wolfe and Rae Ellen Syverson, a retired scientist couple, will unveil a study next Wednesday they conducted over a 30-day period this winter looking at man and manatees jockeying for space in the springs’ area of Three Sisters Springs.
Carl Wolfe and Rae Ellen Syverson will present their findings at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, in the Sable Room at the Plantation on Crystal River resort.
The study was commissioned by the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.
However, Refuge Manager Andrew Gude said the study’s results will be open to interpretation.
“It is meant to be transparent, and that is why even though I will be at the Plantation event, it is Carl and Rae Ellen’s study based on their observations,” Gude said.
“It will be up to people to make up their minds about the findings, and their observations could be part of decisions we make administratively to manage the property,” Gude said.
Syverson and Wolfe said their study comprises data collected over a 30-day period during this winter’s tourist season and that the sample size included about 30,000 visitors to the property.
The study looked at visitor interactions with the manatees in the interior of the springs area, where on a typical day, hundreds of manatees can congregate alongside crowds of people swimming or kayaking.
Gude has said the volume of people and manatees sharing a small space — the springs area is about 2 acres — is unsustainable and is changing the behavior of the endangered mammals. He said it appears manatees are being driven from the area during their rest time when swarmed or crowded by tourists.
Refuge officials have proposed a number of measures, including a ban on kayaks and large inflatable objects in the springs area, but those rules have yet to be implemented.
The refuge also has shut down and reopened water access several times this season.
“The reason we keep doing it is because we’re trying to make sure people do not disturb the manatees while they are resting. But on the other hand, we want to encourage public access,” Gude said.
He said the refuge’s primary role is for the protection of the manatees, and therefore, officials have come up with criteria to determine if the in-water access can be closed or open. Criteria include:
* Predicted or sustained low air temperatures.
* High tide and/or high manatee numbers; and/or predicted or sustained low gulf water temperatures
When in-water access at Three Sisters Springs is restricted, visitors can still visit the boardwalk via a tour company — River Ventures — to view the manatees. For information about closures, go to the refuge’s Facebook page at https://facebook.com/CrystalRiverComplex.
Officials said they are additionally working to install a hotline for Three Sisters Springs updates.