Manatees and Power Plants
South Florida is popular as an area of perpetual summer where Floridians enjoy warm weather throughout the year. While the annual arrival of winter brings tourists flocking to its sunny shores, it also creates minimal changes to the local lifestyle. An occasional cold snap might mean residents using less air-conditioning or wearing longer pants. However, for the most part, life goes on as usual.
Nevertheless, not all mammals deal with such temperature drops. For the West Indian manatee, and specifically the Florida subspecies, even a modest change in temperature sends these sensitive, slow-moving creatures looking for warmer waters to inhabit. They are unable to survive in temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 °C).
In Riviera Beach, located on the east coast of the central portion of the state, the electric company, Florida, Power, & Light, Inc. (FPL), operates a power plant that indirectly provides what it refers to as, “a warm-water haven,” for the manatees. When temperatures begin to fall—even to a warm 68 degrees Fahrenheit—the local manatees begin to a gather in a lagoon which is filled regularly with warm water from the plant’s discharge vent.
The plant also provides a viewing area for the public and encourages them to come and see the manatees, and to learn about other environmental initiatives the power company is involved in. For example, there are murals depicting the lifestyles of manatees and other plant and animal species native to Florida. Included are exhibitions showing FPL’s conservation projects relating to the loggerhead sea turtle and the American crocodile, which inhabit areas close to the company’s two nuclear power plants in the cities of Miami and Port Saint Lucie.
Some environmentalists are enraged by the power company’s offering. Dr. Jake Jacouman, an independent marine biologist in the area, is quite critical of such efforts.
“It’s ridiculous, this inviting people to go hang out at a power plant—one that is polluting the local air and water—just to see manatees being lured artificially to a pond that’s actually filled with runoff wastewater. The viewing area hardly offers visitors an opportunity to see the manatees from a natural perspective. It’s just marketing to make FPL look like its doing some good to offset the harm its actually causing to our environment and this planet.”
As to the power company’s funding of other environmental initiatives and conservation efforts, Dr. Jacouman, was equally bothered.
“Look, anyone can stick up a sign on their property and call it a manatee protection zone. It’s good for raising public awareness, of course, but creating a conservation area for an endangered species, for example the American crocodile, to come and lay its eggs in the cooling canals of a nuclear power plant is just outrageous!”
The Florida manatee’s current status has been raised from an endangered species to one that is vulnerable to extinction. Seeking warmer waters, manatees endanger themselves by gathering at harbors or marinas. There, they fall victim to being hit by large boats or the propellers of smaller marine craft. Though they may occasionally be attacked by alligators, crocodiles, or sharks, it is still humans who present the greatest danger to them.
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