Susan L. Richardson, Ph.D.
A portion of this research is funded by proceeds from Florida's Protect Wild Dolphins specialty license plate, granted by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation.
To assess the ecological consequences of anthropogenic impacts on Florida’s coastal habitats, integrated technologies are required to monitor key species and environmental correlates. Manatees are a Florida icon whose habitat has been radically altered by humans through dredging canals, destroying seagrass beds, and creating artificial warm-water habitat. Manatees appear particularly sensitive to water temperature regime with the projected loss of warm-water sources (i.e., power plants) on the one hand and the devastating effects of winter cold fronts on the other contributing to listing the manatee as threatened and “having a very high risk of extinction.”
Preliminary evidence indicates that the Harbor Branch channel plays a vital role as a thermal refuge, with >100 manatees congregated in the basin during recent winter cold fronts. The goal of this research is to develop an integrated system using existing (photo-identification) and new (remote sensing) techniques to continuously monitor manatee behavior and habitat.