…like a Florida manatee?

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A snorkeler looks on as a manatee surfaces at Three Sisters Springs in Kings Bay, Florida on January 23, 2015. (C) By Hannah Morse 2015.

As the sun breaks over the horizon and a steamy fog blankets the surface of Crystal River, Three Sisters Springs in Kings Bay, Florida, legally opens to the public on a chilly Friday in January 2015. The springs’ entrance is only accessible by swimming in the crisp 72-degree waters, past three thick white PVC pipes and through a channel lined by algae-covered rocks and tree roots. Sometimes, from the kicked-up sand emerges a gray behemoth, weightlessly cruising through the translucent spring waters.

 

A then-endangered West Indian manatee calf pokes its whiskered nose out from under the soaked rope that tethers off areas on either side of the springs’ entrance. Wetsuit-clad swimmers wait face down in the water and stay afloat with blue, orange and green Styrofoam noodles, waiting for the young manatee’s next move. Sometimes its beady eyes treat humans with disinterest or explore with curiosity, perhaps rolling over for a belly scratch.

The calf surveys the strange group of gangly humans before picking one from the crowd. It topples from side to side trying to gain its balance while swimming closer to the surface. The chosen swimmer doesn’t try to reach out and touch the manatee. A mere two inches from the swimmer’s face, the manatee lifts up its snout. It greets the swimmer with a kiss and quickly curls its back to swim down further into the 9-feet deep water, exposing its stomach to other swimmers waiting for a belly rub, not unlike the family dog.

The West Indian manatee is driven by a quest for the next meal, warm waters to seek comfort in or a quiet resting spot. It floats on with a thick disk of a tail that pulses like the fan of a Southern belle on a warm, lazy afternoon.

Some are covered in algae, and when they rest at the spring bottom with their noses nestled in the sand and their flippers tucked underneath their rotund body, silver spring fish take heed and feast on the green delights. Others carry around reminders of why they’re protected in the first place: nearly fatal boats strikes make bright pink scars that fade to white over time, or sometimes not at all.

And unless there’s a passing boat or crispy vegetation dipping into the clear waters, the manatee has no sense of the battle that goes on above the surface.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has struggled to keep up with demands by interest groups, seen through decreased funds and filed lawsuits and petition. One side wants to keep the manatee protected as legally endangered because they feel manatee numbers are low and that they’re a symbol of Florida’s springs. The other side values human rights over those of manatees and wants the Service to list them as threatened. And sometimes, the perfect human-made spot to find warm water will end up being its demise if it goes offline during the winter. Continue reading

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…like Bob Bonde?

2006 RKB Mexico DSC09415

Bob Bonde and a manatee in Mexico, 2006. Used with permission.

A sprinkled tint of red from the sun is nearly permanent across Bob Bonde’s cheeks. Sitting in a conference room lined with shelves upon shelves of books at his job at the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, he recalled that as a young boy in San Pedro, California, he would sail with his brother among pilot whales off the state’s coast.

The call to open waters never left him.

Bonde never imagined he’d be working with Florida’s manatees. He graduated from California State University at Long Beach with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a certificate in environmental studies. As a student, he worked at the local museum educating inner-city kids from Los Angeles about tide pools and sometimes collecting whale carcasses from the beach, determining the cause of death and piecing together bones for museum displays.

“Every morning you wake up it’s different because the tide brings in new things,” he said. “It’s just not the same beach every day.” Continue reading

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…Janna Owens and Terry Griffith

Wastewater Woes of San Miguel

Janna Owens, left, and Terry Griffith in the field in  San Miguel.  Photo used with permission.

Janna Owens, left, and Terry Griffith in the field in San Miguel. Photo used with permission.

Janna Owens tossed a Cheeto into the Las Cachinches River. Owens is an aquatic biologist, so the bright orange snack sailed on the murky, green waters not as litter, but with scientific purpose. The main wastewater treatment plant of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, seemingly stood as a barrier between the flows: in with the bad and out with the good. Yet, as the snack floated underneath, to the other side of the wastewater treatment plant and on its way to crops, the presence of the untouched, unscathed Cheeto suggested a bigger problem than Owens’ littering.

The Las Cachinches River, along with the Laja River, flows into the Presa Allende Lake in a city called San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico. While San Miguel is known for its quaint and colorful culture, the expatriates, who make up about 10 percent population, have contributed significantly to its culture and economy, according to Robert de Gast’s book “Behind the doors of San Miguel de Allende.”

Pennsylvania expat Mike Lambert, a 68-year-old rower who has lived in the city since 2004, said he was surprised when he first saw the water’s quality.

“You couldn’t see an inch through the water,” he said. “It looked like dishwater without soap.” Continue reading

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…like Joseph Antonelli

Joseph Antonelli

Joseph Antonelli

Joe Antonelli likes to surprise his limousine customers. While he helps plan romantic proposals with nervous soon-to-be fiancés, waits for the question to be popped and congratulates the happy couple, Antonelli tells them that their chauffeur for the evening is a gay man.

“I do it for the notion that it teaches,” he said.

The stout and spritely 70-year-old reminds his customers that we live in an age where places still prohibit people like him from getting to experience moments like these. Only three of Florida’s 67 counties have judicially ruled against the ban on same-sex marriage, which is postponed by appeals. [Edit: 1/15/15 this was the case at time of publication. As of 1/6/15, same-sex marriage is legal throughout Florida.]

Having come out in 1962 when he was a 19-year-old student at Northeastern University in Boston, Antonelli said that times since then for the gay community have improved.

“[Doctors] had us down as a sickness or illness or a disease,” he said. “It didn’t make sense. They weren’t talking about me!” Continue reading

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…like Harriet Ludwig

Civil

Harriet Ludwig of Gainesville, Fla.

Harriet Ludwig remembers the first time she saw someone with skin unlike her own.

To her, this moment will forever be a reminder to why she promotes equal rights for all.

It was the summer of 1933 and she was 8, visiting her grandparents in Waterloo, Iowa. Over time, the city had become more diverse due to job openings with the Illinois Railroad Company, compared with her all-white hometown of Aberdeen, South Dakota, said her younger brother Bill Mullen.

Her grandfather, the Rev. Fred Fisher, had written a series of stories about people in Waterloo who were old enough to remember the times of slavery, some who remembered being slaves themselves. Ludwig said she remembered that the black population of Waterloo appreciated and recognized Fisher’s work. The African Methodist Episcopal Church invited Fisher to give a sermon. Continue reading

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