November is Manatee Awareness Month, which makes it the perfect time to celebrate these gentle giants and the conservation efforts to protect them. These aquatic mammals have elongated round bodies that taper to a flat, paddle-shaped tail, and they have two forelimbs (called flippers). The average adult manatee is up to 14 feet long and can weigh up to 3,000 pounds. Manatees are indicator species – that means when manatees are thriving, their immediate environment is flourishing with life. While in the 1970s, there were just a few hundred manatees, conservation efforts have helped this species rebound. Today, the range-wide population is estimated to be at least 13,000 manatees with more than 6,500 in the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of Carol Grant.
Pelican Islands National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. While it was created to protect the habitat of migratory and resident birds, the refuge’s land and waters are also home to other interesting animals, including the North American river otter. Able to live in both fresh and saltwater, the river otter is a clever, adorable and sometimes dangerous animal. Is this one angling for a belly rub (which you should never do) or thinking about its next meal? Photo by Keenan Adams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It can be difficult to get some people excited about Everglades National Park in Florida; there aren’t any mountains, it’s humid, the mosquitoes can be terrible. Some people are afraid of alligators. But beyond its ecological importance, this park has an understated beauty and a fascinating history. Exploring this seemingly endless sea of grass by land or water is a chance to see an incredible variety of birds and learn how much difference a few inches of elevation can make. For a living classroom, the sunsets are pretty good, too. Photo by Caitlin Rivas, National Park Service.
On public lands across the country, we are working to protect turtle habitat, monitor turtle nests and ensure hatchlings make it to the ocean. At Dry Tortugas National Park – the most active turtle nesting site in the Florida Keys – park biologists have been monitoring sea turtle nesting activity within the park since 1980. Learn more about different types of turtles found on public lands: https://on.doi.gov/2rTZ7gf
Sea turtle hatchlings at Dry Tortugas by National Park Service.
Photographer Jose Torres won the Night Sky category of the Share The Experience contest with this incredible shot of the Milky Way at Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. Located almost 70 miles west of Key West, the 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park is known for the magnificent Fort Jefferson, picturesque blue waters, great snorkeling and amazing night skies. Photo by Jose Torres (www.sharetheexperience.org).
Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge in Florida is a haven for great white herons, migratory birds and other fascinating wildlife. The refuge consists of almost 200,000 acres of open water and scattered islands, and is known in the Keys as the “backcountry.” The refuge provides critical nesting, feeding and resting areas for hundreds of species of birds and sea turtles. The beaches, mangroves and sparkling blue water are favorites for the visitors who explore this beautiful and fragile place. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The sun sinks behind the horizon, coloring the sky a bright orange before night falls in South Florida. Big Cypress National Preserve protects 729,000 acres of unique freshwater swamp, offering refuge to a wide variety of plants and animals. From hardwood hammocks hiding rare Florida panthers to tidal estuaries teeming with birds and fish, there is so much to see in this wonderful place. Photo by National Park Service.
It’s Manatee Appreciation Day! These gentle giants can grow to over 14 feet in length and weigh over 3,000 pounds. Also, known as “sea cows,” manatees feed on seagrasses and other aquatic plants. Today, the total population is estimated to be at least 13,000 manatees, with more than 6,500 in the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico. When aerial surveys began in 1991, there were only an estimated 1,267 manatees in Florida. Check out more fun facts about manatees: https://on.doi.gov/2fpJzxv Photo from Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Famous for its place in space travel history, Canaveral National Seashore in Florida has wonders that are much easier to experience than the walking on the Moon. As high-tech rockets soar into space, sea turtles – one of the oldest animals still living on Earth – nest on a nearby beach. Walking paths lead visitors by more than 1,000 species of plants as exotic birds fly overhead. Mosquito Lagoon harbors an amazing variety of fish, oysters, crabs and shrimp. We also recommend settling in the sand and watching the sunset. Photo by Phillip Lott (www.sharetheexperience.org).
Golden sunrise light streams through the pinelands at Everglades National Park in Florida. Across the park’s 1.5 million acres, thick forests transition to wide wetlands and coastal lowlands; each distinct ecosystem dependent on water conditions and a few inches of elevation. On your next adventure, explore these different lands and waters in search of your perfect Everglades moment. Photo courtesy of Andrew R. Slaton.