Environmental Management

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 154-166

First online:

Improving Conservation of Florida Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris): Conceptualization and Contributions Toward a Regional Warm-Water Network Management Strategy for Sustainable Winter Habitat

  • Richard Owen FlammAffiliated withFish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Email author 
  • , John Elliot ReynoldsIIIAffiliated withManatee Research Program, Mote Marine Laboratory
  • , Craig HarmakAffiliated withFish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

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We used southwestern Florida as a case study to lay the groundwork for an intended and organized decision-making process for managing warm-water habitat needed by endangered manatees to survive winters in Florida. Scientists and managers have prioritized (a) projecting how the network of warm-water sites will change over the next 50 years as warmed industrial discharges may expire and as flows of natural springs are reduced through redirection of water for human uses, and (b) mitigating such changes to prevent undue consequences to manatees. Given the complexities introduced by manatee ecology; agency organizational structure; shifting public demands; fluctuating resource availability; and managing within interacting cultural, social, political, and environmental contexts, it was clear that a structured decision process was needed. To help promote such a process, we collected information relevant to future decisions including maps of known and suspected warm-water sites and prototyped a characterization of sites and networks. We propose steps that would lead to models that might serve as core tools in manatee/warm-water decision-making, and we summarized topics relevant for informed decision-making (e.g., manatee spatial cognition, risk of cold-stress morbidity and mortality, and human dimensions). A major impetus behind this effort is to ensure proactively that robust modeling tools are available well in advance of the anticipated need for a critical management decision.


Florida Marine mammals Manatees Warm-water network Complex management problems Structured decisions