It's that time of year again when water activities in Blue Spring State Park are put on hold in the spring run. The West Indian Manatee has returned to the area where it takes refuge in the constant 72 degree water of the spring run throughout the cold winter months. To provide an undisturbed refuge for the manatees, the park service closes the spring and spring run to swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and boating from November 15 through March 15 each year.
That doesn't mean there's no reason to visit Blue Spring State Park during those months because the park is one of the few locations in Florida where visitors can view the manatees in their natural environment from land. The boardwalk from the spring boil along the resulting run offers spectacular views of the manatees as they congregate in the spring run.
Rangers have counted as many as 265 manatees in the spring run in one day of this season. Viewing is best in the morning hours and late afternoon hours since the manatees migrate out into the St. Johns River during the daytime hours to feed on the vegetation before returning to the spring run to spend the night when the temperature drops.
Manatees are mammals who are susceptible to "cold stress syndrome" when water temperatures drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This often fatal condition refers to collection of conditions a manatee suffers from when exposed to cold water for an extended period of time and includes:
- Slowed metabolism
- Digestion problems
- Decreased appetite leading to weight loss
- Intestinal infections
- Virus caused skin lesions
Blue Spring State Park offers daily ranger programs about the manatee, "Magnificent Mammals!", weekdays at 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. and on weekends at 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Plan to arrive early, particularly on weekends, because when the park reaches capacity it will close until visitors exit before allowing any more through the gates.
For more information about the manatees and Blue Spring State Park visit their website.