Haloclines induced by freshwater inflow over tidal water have been identified as an important mechanism for maintaining warm water in passive thermal refugia (PTR) used by Florida manatees Trichechus manatus latirostris during winter in extreme southwestern Florida. Record-setting cold during winter 2009–2010 resulted in an unprecedented number of manatee deaths, adding to concerns that PTR may provide inadequate thermal protection during severe cold periods. Hydrological data from 2009–2010 indicate that 2 canal systems in the Ten Thousand Islands (TTI) region acted as PTR and maintained warm bottom-water temperatures, even during severe and prolonged cold periods. Aerial survey counts of live and dead manatees in TTI during the winter of 2009–2010 suggest that these PTR were effective at preventing mass mortality from hypothermia, in contrast to the nearby Everglades region, which lacks similar artificial PTR and showed high manatee carcass counts. Hydrological data from winter 2008–2009 confirmed earlier findings that without haloclines these artificial PTR may become ineffective as warm-water sites. Tidal pumping of groundwater appears to provide additional heat to bottom water during low tide cycles, but the associated thermal inversion is not observed unless salinity stratification is present. The finding that halocline-driven PTR can maintain warm water even under extreme winter conditions suggests that they may have significant potential as warm-water sites. However, availability and conflicting uses of freshwater and other management issues may make halocline-driven PTR unreliable or difficult to manage during winter.
Additional publication details
Passive thermal refugia provided warm water for Florida manatees during the severe winter of 2009-2010