VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — The manatees are returning to Blue Spring thanks to chilly weather.

Researchers say 2020 was not a great year for manatees and they are worried 2021 could bring the same challenges.

The Save the Manatee Club is monitoring the manatees and working to keep them safe this new year.  

What You Need To Know

  • Save the Manatee Club is monitoring the manatees at Blue Spring

  •  400-plus counted Saturday morning at the spring

  • 2020 was a deadly year for manatees 619 killed in local waters

Researchers Cora Berchem and Wayne Hartley were up bright and early Saturday to count the manatees returning to Blue Spring State Park.

The count passed 400 this morning. It’s a meticulous process that is a labor of love for Berchem.

“It is really cool as a researcher here to see returning so many animals from previous seasons,” she said. “It is almost like family of friends coming back to town kind of thing.”

It’s especially nice to see them after a very difficult year.

 “2020 for manatees in Florida it was a pretty tough year again, we had 619 manatees pass away last year,” Berchem said. “That is the second highest number in the last 5 years, only surpassed by 2018 when we had a really bad red tide.”

Seventy of those deaths were in Volusia, with three of them dying near Blue Spring, according to Berchem. She said she believes the global pandemic could have contributed to this spike.

 “People took to their boats as a form of social distancing, especially because a lot of the other things that people enjoy doing were closed,” she said.

“Then, subsequently, if you see more boat traffic, you may also see more injured or dead manatees.”

As the pandemic continues into 2021, she’s concerned this trend could continue for manatees as well.

“We are definitely working on a lot of outreach to boaters, to the boating community to educate people about manatees,” Berchem said.

By sharing the ways to respect the manatees and their habitat— she hopes it is enough to leave 2020’s numbers in the past.

But there is some good news heading into the new year— researchers say so far they’ve spotted 78 calves at Blue Spring State park— which is a new record and a good sign for the manatee population.

“I am hopeful that with more education, more awareness, people are more responsible and they are realizing we all need to protect the manatees,” Berchem. “So I hope we don’t continue that negative trend from 2020 and that 2021 will be a better year for both us and the manatees.”