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Manatee Workshop Emphasizes The Big Picture: Manatees’ Ecosystem & Conservation

By Samantha Whitcraft

For one long weekend each January since 2009, the Espedeco Tree Farm in Citrus County, Florida hosts adventurers, leading manatee scientists, international and local conservationists, and the surrounding community to learn about and see manatees and the vanishing ecosystem that surrounds their critical winter home, the Crystal River and Three Sisters Springs.

Oceanic Society and Espedeco Tree Farm support and promote the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's guidance for passive observation of manatees.

Experts Speak on Manatee Conservation

Guest lecturers include staff of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge complex, education and wildlife rescue volunteers and staff with the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, professional wildlife photographers, Florida conservation advocates, and leading manatee scientists who discuss their latest research. Lecturers/participants have included:

The goal of the workshop is to allow for the exchange of ideas combined with a respectful experience of manatees and their entire ecosystem, thus providing a meaningful connection to and understanding of the vital need to protect and respect these integrated habitats.

Florida manatee. © Samantha Whitcraft

To deepen participants' connection with nature we explore a thousand acres of certified sustainable tree farm—managed to allow for wood, water, wildlife, and recreation—and the natural Florida habitats that surround it; private, protected land in the heart of manatee country that has been preserved and protected for over 100 years. These vanishing Florida habitats are vital to the conservation of manatees and are the overall focus of our yearly manatee workshop. This ecosystem immersion allows for participants' interactions with manatees within the context of understanding the ecology of the local area.

Canoeing on Oceanic Society's 2014 Florida manatee trip. © Wayne Sentman

What can be done for Manatees?

What are Oceanic Society and Espedeco Tree Farm doing for manatee conservation?

  • During our yearly workshop we bring together manatee scientists, resource managers, and the local advocacy and ecotourism communities to network and exchange ideas and resources for creative conservation solutions. A portion of funds raised goes to Friends of Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
  • We are producing a short documentary about issues facing manatees globally and the positive steps needed to continue the current conservation work for manatees. (Our short video (above), “Have You Met A Manatee" was awarded an 'Honorable Mention' by the BLUE Ocean Film Festival, 2014).
  • We promote and support manatee tour operators who are members of META, the Manatee Ecotourism Association in Crystal River, Florida.
  • In Belize, we are researching the temporal distribution of manatees at Turneffe Atoll; their behavioral ecology, and the environmental parameters of micro-habitats consistently used by manatees.

Learn more or to sign up for the January 2015 Manatee Workshop.


Samantha Whitcraft holds a bachelor in Natural Sciences from Harvard University and earned her master of Marine Affairs and Policy at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. As a conservation biologist, she has worked with National Geographic, WildAid and local communities to research and develop sustainable ecotourism and "citizen science." A resident of Florida, her fieldwork has taken her to the Amazon, Kiribati, the Bahamas, Fiji, and the Galapagos.


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