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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USF chapter.

There’s no better place to welcome in spring than South Florida! The winter chill is finally dwindling away as the sun shines through the clouds and it’s the perfect time to go to the beach and out with friends. As finals approach, it’s crucial that students spend time outdoors and around nature as it will work to improve your mental health. The tranquility of natural environments helps to lower cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress, while increasing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to mood regulation; spending time outdoors during daylight hours helps regulate the body’s internal clock and sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to natural light during the day and darkness at night promotes better sleep quality and duration, leading to improved overall well-being.

Spring doesn’t only mark the beginning of fun-filled days for people, but the last Wednesday in March is the official Manatee Appreciation Day! These majestic creatures, often referred to as sea cows, are iconic symbols of Florida’s coastal ecosystems. Living in South Florida all my life has allowed me to swim with the manatees twice and each time the experience is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Manatees are herbivores that travel in herds and love the cool water against their skin, so if you ever find yourself in Crystal River, Florida around November, December, or January, you can swim alongside these beautiful animals and watch as they slowly swim, graze on seagrass, and look right at you!

While manatees do enjoy cooler water, as the months get hotter, there is a lot that those who live in Tampa and St. Petersburg can do to ensure their safety and well being as they share this ecosystem with us. One of the most pressing issues facing manatees in the Tampa Bay area is the risk of boat strikes. As boats navigate the waters of Tampa Bay and its surrounding areas, they pose a significant threat to manatees, often resulting in injuries or fatalities. To mitigate this risk, residents can support efforts to implement and enforce speed zones and boating regulations in manatee habitats. By adhering to speed limits and remaining vigilant while boating, individuals can help reduce the likelihood of collisions and protect these vulnerable animals.

Additionally, the preservation and restoration of critical manatee habitats are essential for their long-term survival. Seagrass beds, freshwater springs, and warm-water refuges serve as vital feeding and resting grounds for manatees, yet they are increasingly threatened by pollution, habitat loss, and degradation. Community-based conservation initiatives, such as habitat restoration projects and shoreline cleanups, play a crucial role in safeguarding these habitats and ensuring a healthy environment for manatees and other marine life.

A way you can help is by visiting Save the Manatee and join their efforts to conduct research, rescue, and rehabilitate the manatees in the United States. One of my fondest memories from my freshman year at USF was when a manatee got beached onto our campus and so many of my peers took the initiative to protect the creature until animal control came to safely send it back into their home. The power of community between people and each other and the animal kingdom is one to behold and, as Floridians, we are so lucky to be so close to the wildlife.

As we celebrate the arrival of spring in South Florida and honor Manatee Appreciation Day, let us not only revel in the beauty of nature but also recognize our responsibility to protect and preserve the habitats and wildlife that make our region unique. By working together to address the challenges facing manatees, residents of Tampa and St. Petersburg can ensure a brighter future for these beloved sea creatures and the ecosystems they inhabit.

Lily Barmoha (she/her) is a university student who is currently studying English and Creative Writing, as she has been doing at her performing arts middle and high school for the past seven years. She loves reading new fiction and classic literature, listening to music and going to concerts, and going to the movies. She especially loves writing reviews about pop culture events and hopes to one day work at an established arts and fashion magazine or start her own one day!