The current cold snap is having a negative effect on Florida's fish and marine wildlife as temperatures dip below normal.
The Florida manatee is one of the species being impacted by the extremely cold weather, as ocean surface temperatures dip into the 50s. Exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees for long periods can cause a condition called manatee cold-stress syndrome, which can result in death.
When water temperatures drop, manatees gather in warm-water habitats, such as discharge canals at power plants, canal systems or springs. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is asking boaters to be extra vigilant in watching for manatees in shallow waters near the coast, both inland and coastal, and obey all posted manatee speed zone signs.
All boaters, including kayakers, canoers, and the public in general should avoid areas where large numbers of manatees are gathered - namely warm springs and other warm inland rivers where manatees gather during the winter. The aggregated animals should be left alone because a disturbance could scare them away from the warm-water sites, which they need to survive during the cold temperatures.
To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).Cold weather also can affect sea turtles. When the water temperature drops, stunned sea turtles may float listlessly in the water or wash onto shore. Although these turtles may appear to be dead, they are often still alive. It is important to report these turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline as soon as possible so that care can be provided to them.
The FWC, working with the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network, recovered more than 250 cold-stunned sea turtles in Mosquito Lagoon in Brevard County this past week. Sea turtle rehabilitation facilities throughout the state will house these animals until they can be released when temperatures warm.
Extended periods of unusually cold weather can also kill fish outright by cold stress or make fish more susceptible to disease. Warm-water species, including popular game fish, are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures. Fish affected by the cold may appear lethargic and may be seen at the surface where the water may be warmer from the sun. Recreational regulations still apply with these fish, and violators should be reported.
Report dead and dying fish to the Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511.
All other distressed wildlife, including sea turtles, may be reported to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).