By: Trisha Phy, 2017 Intern with UF/IFAS NCBS and the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

Is it really considered work when you love what you do?

I had the opportunity to study the interactions between swimmers and Florida manatees this past winter in the Three Sisters Springs unit of Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). My “office” consisted of 0.92 acres of beautiful, blue, natural springs. Hundreds of manatees and swimmers could be packed in there, but not at the same time. Crystal River NWR staff monitored the status of the springs and would open or close Three Sisters Springs to public access depending on predicted cold weather events, manatee presence or absence, and manatee distribution, movement, and behavior.

A few other interns and I worked together on this research project in order to provide refuge staff with the data they need to make proper management decisions at Three Sisters Springs during manatee season. Our research objectives were to record and analyze manatee and swimmer usage in relation to tides and Gulf water temperatures, manatee behavior in the presence and absence of swimmers, manatees’ responses to encounters with swimmers, any disturbances that caused a mass exit of manatees, and manatee distribution inside Three Sisters Springs in the presence and absence of swimmers. This research study was designed and previously conducted by Carl Wolfe and Rae Ellen Syverson over the course of two manatee seasons prior to 2017. They were volunteer researchers for Crystal River NWR that wanted to continue doing research during their retirement. The study design was impressive, incorporated environmental and biological factors, and allowed endless data analysis possibilities. My co-intern, Megan Ely, took us to a whole new skill level of Microsoft Excel!

Who can say that they hang out with manatees all day for their job? Not many! This internship was magical. Between watching the manatee mating herds at sunrise with the steam lifting off the water’s surface to watching the interactions between mother and calves and swimming with the manatees regularly, I can’t say that it gets much better than this. Thank you so much to the NCBS for providing me with this internship opportunity. It was unforgettable.

-Trisha Phy