Good morning! My name is Elizabeth Neville and I am Defenders of Wildlife’s manatee advocate. Today I am here at the Ocala National Forest in Florida. We are going out onto the Ocklawaha River, which has been dammed since the 1960s. Every few years the government conducts what is called a draw-down of the river, and this exposes the historic flow of the river, as well as the freshwater springs that are hidden beneath. The freshwater springs offer promise for manatee habitat if the river is restored. So today we’re going to go out and look at some of these, and I can’t wait to take you with me. This is the run to Cannon Springs. Got Kent here taking photos, Got Bill the drone pilot, and we have Captain Karen, who has been navigating us down the river. Restoring the Ocklawaha River by breaching the Kirkpatrick Dam promises many benefits, including increased connectivity, habitat quality and biodiversity for fish and wildlife species, improved water quality and quantity, and much-needed beneficial activity for the local economy. As the Ocklawaha is the largest tributary to the 300-mile-long St. John’s River, these impacts are certain to reach far downstream into the Atlantic Ocean. We’re here to get some drone footage of Cannon Springs to show the public what could be unearthed forever if the Ocklawaha River is restored. There it goes! See what photos we can get. One species that stands to benefit tremendously from a restored river is the Florida manatee. Restoring the Ocklawaha will expose 20 freshwater springs that are submerged by the murky, impounded water of the dam. Scientists estimate that a restored Ocklawaha River system and its freshwater springs could provide warm water winter habitat for as many as 1,000 manatees. This is important as lack of natural warm water habitat is the most pressing long-term threat to the sustained survival of the Florida manatee. Right now I’m here at Cannon Springs, one of the lost springs of the Ocklawaha River. Ordinarily this bright blue freshwater spring is completely submerged by murky brown water due to inundation from the Rodman Reservoir. However, during this drawdown the water level is lowered and you can see this natural treasure connected to this iconic Florida river. Defenders of Wildlife advocates for restoring the natural flow of the Ocklawaha River by breaching the Kirkpatrick Dam through education and policy activities throughout the state of Florida. Free the Ocklawaha River!