Manatee Exhibit at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

    A few weeks ago I visited one of my favorite Florida places –  the twin islands of Sanibel and Captiva, off the coast of Fort Myers. I was there for the opening of the new Marvelous Manatees exhibit at Sanibel’s J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

    I’ll write more about the Refuge in upcoming blogs (honestly, it deserves a dozen blogs plus its own feature film), but the exhibit is encouraging – albeit a little sobering. I’ve been around Florida long enough to remember when manatees were just an afterthought, until Jimmy Buffett got involved and helped Florida naturalists raise awareness by telling boaters to slow down and be aware of these amazing creatures.

    There are still lessons to be learned, and this exhibit fills visitors in on what they can do to protect manatees – things as simple as not tossing trash into the water. (Manatees may mistake trash for food and find it lodged in their digestive tracts.) 

    In addition to a life-sized model of a manatee and her calf, there are interpretive signs and a number of hands-on activities, including a CSI-type forensic area similar to what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses. One of the most memorable displays is an actual manatee skeleton that reveals the unusual biological intricacy of these lovable animals – and which also pinpoints the internal repairs this manatee’s body made after it was struck by a boat.

    Overall, the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge is one of the finest natural attractions in Florida, and the new Marvelous Manatees exhibit is a wonderful way to remind us all how – and why – we should protect Florida’s extraordinary animal ambassadors. To learn more about the refuge, visit the website.