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Manatees' survival is what festival's about

The sign next to the Crystal River High School's marine biology club booth said it all _ "What about tomorrow?"

Their booth, and the one right next to it occupied by marine mammal medicine specialist Jesse White, summed up concern over the fate of the endangered Florida manatee _ and hope that people would come to the eighth annual Florida Manatee Festival this weekend to learn more about how to protect the animal.

But education is not the only focus of the festival at Plantation Inn. There is also lots of activity, music and fun to be had as well.

Musical attractions scheduled for today's finale include Citrus Jazz, country musician Shirley Frazier and the County Community Band.

The main tent on the Plantation Inn grounds will be used to serve refreshments and provide tables.

Also surrounding the tent area are two grass volleyball courts and booths from organizations sponsoring the event.

It is in the tent area that Jesse White and his wife, Diane, hold court.

"Education is what we're all about," said White, founder of the Florida Manatee Research Educational Foundation. "It's the only way the manatee is to survive.

"We want to show people how to develop and how to boat without hurting the manatee," said White while answering questions from and taking pictures with the people passing by his table.

"The questions that have been asked have been exceptional," added Diane White. "They've been sincere inquiries."

The main attraction outside the tent area is the arts exhibits, featuring two rows of around 100 booths of exhibits, including watercolors, woodcarvings, photographs and jewelry, much of it dedicated to manatees and other animals.

"I think (the festival) is neat," said Dolores Buescher, a Clearwater artist who brought her sand drawings to display. "The arts needs as much support as it can get."

Buescher's display included renditions of birds, shells and other objects indigenous to the beach, done up in colorful pastel shades of multilayered sand atop a wood base and mounted on glue.

Her display included a few manatees, too, although, as Buescher laughed, "People snatched the ugly things up as fast as I could make them."