Urge Florida's leaders to protect manatees by restoring the Great Florida Riverway!

Manatees are currently dying in record numbers - but the greatest long-term threat to these animals is the loss of warm water habitat that manatees need to survive the winter.

Restoring the Ocklawaha River is critical to ensuring the long-term survival of manatees. This river system, with over 20 connected springs, could provide essential warm water habitat for hundreds of manatees. With the species in crisis and many more die-offs likely if habitat is not restored, we need to do all we can to keep them safe from fatal temperatures.

Florida’s leaders are asking the public to provide input on the future of this river system: the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) needs to hear from you that it’s time to restore the Ocklawaha River for Florida’s wildlife!

Here’s how you can help: Click here to reach SJRWMD’s official comment page. You’ll have the opportunity to answer four questions in support of manatees and a space for your additional comments. To make it easier for you to share your feedback, we’ve offered some sample answers you can use in your response!

Please click here to visit the comment portal and let SJRWMD know that it’s time to restore manatee habitat!

Sample questions and supporting answers:

What would you like to see happen with the Rodman Reservoir and Kirkpatrick Dam moving forward? 

  • We need to restore the Ocklawaha River by breaching the Kirkpatrick Dam.

What is the most important piece of information that supports your position?

  • Restoring the Ocklawaha River is the most impactful manatee habitat restoration project in the state and will provide essential warm water winter habitat for hundreds of manatees.
  • 15,000+ acres of the Florida Wildlife Corridor will be restored or enhanced, benefitting species like Florida black bears, Florida panthers, bobcats, bald eagles, and white-tailed deer.

What would be your biggest concern if your desired outcome is not achieved?

  • Keeping the Ocklawaha dammed deprives hundreds of manatees of essential warm water winter habitat, harming their chances of survival in the future.
  • Keeping the Ocklawaha dammed would keep 7,500 acres of forested wetlands flooded by the Rodman Reservoir and continue to impact species like Florida panthers, Florida black bears, bobcats, and white-tailed deer that cannot easily travel through this vital section of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Is there any scenario short of fully achieving your desired outcome you could support? 

  • No. Breaching the dam is 50 years overdue. Wildlife and water quality cannot wait any longer.

Other comments:

As a stakeholder who cares about Florida’s environment, I am asking you to restore the Ocklawaha River, the heart of the Great Florida Riverway, to ensure a bright future for our state’s people and wildlife, especially manatees. This restoration will also improve water quality and flow, support coastal resiliency, and strengthen a vital wildlife corridor.

The Great Florida Riverway is a 217-mile system of rivers and springs that flows north from the Green Swamp near Lake Apopka, is fed by Silver Springs, and continues past Palatka to the Lower St. Johns River estuary on the Atlantic Ocean. Restoration will reunite these rivers and benefit communities, economies, and ecosystems all along the Riverway.

Restoring the Ocklawaha River, the heart of the Great Florida Riverway, will provide essential warm water winter habitat for hundreds of manatees. 2021 is the deadliest year on record for manatees; unless their natural habitat is restored, we can expect more die-offs in the future.  While this year’s crisis was caused in large part by starvation from loss of seagrass, an important food source for manatees, the greatest long-term threat to the manatee is loss of natural warm water winter habitat. 60% of Florida’s manatees depend on power plant outfalls to keep warm in the winter – an unsustainable situation.

Restoring the Ocklawaha River by breaching the dam that impounds the river will allow manatees to access the Ocklawaha’s natural springs that are currently submerged by artificially high water levels caused by the dam. Several of the Ocklawaha’s 20 springs could provide natural warm water habitat for as many as 100 manatees each. This restoration will also allow manatees unimpeded access to the Silver River and Silver Springs, both of which present great potential as warm water habitat for hundreds more manatees.

This exciting restoration project will additionally revive over 15,000 acres of forested wetlands, strengthening a vital wildlife corridor. The project area contains a vital linkage in the Ocala to Osceola (“O2O”) Wildlife Corridor, a vital part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, and restoration will allow greater freedom to roam for Florida panthers, Florida black bears, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and other wildlife.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue. Restoring the Great Florida Riverway is critically important to me as a stakeholder and will greatly benefit Florida’s people, environment and wildlife.

Note: Defenders of Wildlife does not condone or encourage survey respondents creating duplicate email responses by creating new emails or using multiple emails from the same user.