A Tale of Two Manatee-Conservation Experiences
Could Crystal River, Florida, be a model for saving the threatened marine mammal?
By Kaila Yu | May 20 2022
The Sierra Club recently contacted Art Jones, President of One Rake At A Time to discuss how the environmental restoration efforts on the west coast of Florida have helped the manatee population.
“It started with one man and his rake. In 2009, Art Jones, a resident of Crystal River, Florida, became concerned about the decomposing algae choking the seagrass in nearby Kings Bay. Seagrass is important to a range of aquatic species, including the beloved manatees that inhabit Kings Bay on Florida’s western coast, about 80 miles north of the city of Tampa Bay. No one was doing anything about the algae, so one day Jones jumped in the river with his garden rake and started to scrape the riverbed to clear away the algae. Soon, friends and neighbors joined in. The project eventually became the Kings Bay Restoration Project, which by 2015 had raised $1.6 million and has now restored 55 acres of algae-covered waters into lush eelgrass.
The recovery of the bay’s eelgrass is one of the reasons why Florida’s west coast manatees are thriving. In April, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge released a report that found the highest number of manatees ever recorded in Citrus County—1,333 manatees—for the manatee season running from November 15, 2021, to March 31, 2022.
That encouraging news stands in stark contrast to the plight of manatees on Florida’s east coast, where the species’ numbers are plummeting, due in part to the loss of seagrass. The manatees of the Indian River Lagoon are dying in alarming numbers in what biologists call “an unusual mortality event.” Since last year, at least 1,101 manatees have died in and around Indian River Lagoon, according to a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They have primarily died of starvation due to the disappearance of seagrass.”