A Win for Manatees in Southwest Florida

Warm Mineral Springs Creek and Salt Creek Habitat Restoration Nearing Completion

One of Florida’s greatest assets is the abundance of crystal clear, natural springs found throughout the state. Standing apart from the others, Warm Mineral Springs in Sarasota County is one of the only warm-water springs in Florida. The spring head lies within Warm Mineral Springs Park, owned and operated by the City of North Port. The park is a community and tourist destination that sees over 150,000 visitors a year, with many believing the warm, mineralized water has healing powers. The spring head is an archaeologically and culturally significant waterbody, treasured by the community.

Aerial view of a landscape featuring a body of water.
Warm Mineral Springs Park. Photo credit: Katie Bryden

Humans aren’t the only species utilizing the warm waters of the spring. Downstream of the spring head, the water flows into Salt Creek and Warm Mineral Springs Creek. Together, these water bodies make up the most important natural warm-water habitat for manatees in Southwest Florida. 

Warm Mineral Springs Creek and Salt Creek connect the warm, clear waters flowing from the Warm Mineral Spring to the Myakka River. Over 125 manatees, a federally threatened species, have been documented using the creek during cold winter months. Manatees are tropical marine mammals and lack cold tolerance, which is why access to healthy warm-water refuges is critical for their survival during winter.

Sadly, many of these critical water bodies have been degraded by erosion, sedimentation, and human disturbance.

A group of manatees can be seen underwater.
Photo courtesy: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

While the creeks can be enjoyed in spring and summer, this area is an FWC No Entry Zone from November 15 – March 15. This allows manatees to access the warm-water refuge upstream without human disturbances, which can cause them to flee to colder waters that don’t have adequate thermal qualities and put their health at great risk. There is no public viewing of manatees at this warm-water site, but you can enjoy viewing Florida manatees by following the link below.

Restoring Manatee Habitat

Recognizing the need to address overall creek health and to improve manatee habitat, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began construction on a $3.8 million-dollar project to restore roughly 6 acres of the creeks in 2021. The restoration project includes bank stabilization and dredging of sediment from the creek bottom to enhance and expand manatee habitat. To improve water clarity, suspended sediments are removed from the dredged water before the water is released back into the creek. 

Maria Merrill, a Biological Scientist with FWC, is leading the restoration project.  “When completed this summer, the restoration project will remove eroded sediments from the creeks to restore natural creek depths and improve long-term bank stability,” states Merrill. “This is critical to ensure manatees can access this very important natural warm-water refuge.”  

In 2022 the project was temporarily stalled by impacts from Hurricane Ian, but restoration work has resumed and the project is on track to be completed by the end of Summer 2023.

To create public awareness and encourage restoration success, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), FWC, and Sarasota County worked together and successfully implemented an outreach initiative to educate local residents and tourists about ways to protect the creeks and the manatees using them. 

“NWF is happy to be a part of this effort to raise awareness and to see the spring healthy for manatees and spring-lovers alike!” says Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Program Director. “Warm Mineral Springs is a special and beloved place for people and wildlife. The more everyone understands their own role in the health of the spring and creek system, the greater the success of the restoration project.”

With funding support from Gulf Coast Community Foundation, outreach work included: 

  • updating and installing manatee safety signage; 
  • creating and distributing brochures with Ukrainian and Russian translations;
  • creating a webpage for Manatees in Southwest Florida;
  • one-on-one interactions at community workshops.
A sign detailing manatee safety.
Manatee Safety Signs installed by Sarasota County staff at Warm Mineral Springs Creek public entry ways. Photo credit: Paige Lansky

For more information on how you can keep manatees safe, click here to visit our webpage.

About Gulf Coast Community Foundation

For more than 25 years, together with our donors, Gulf Coast Community Foundation has transformed our region through bold and proactive philanthropy. Gulf Coast is a public charity that was created in 1995 through the sale of the Venice Hospital. Since then, we have become the philanthropic home of over 950 families, individuals, businesses, and organizations that have established charitable funds here. Together, we have invested over $430 million in grants in the areas of health and human services, civic and economic development, education, arts and culture, and the environment. Learn more at GulfCoastCF.org.