Dec 10, 2021 - News

Saving sea cows with supplemental seagrass

A manatee swims among seagrass in the Homosassa River on Oct. 5.
A manatee swims among seagrass in the Homosassa River on Oct. 5. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As weather cools and manatees return to their winter feeding grounds, conservation groups are organizing supplemental feedings to try to stave off mass starvation.

Yes, but: Poor water quality has depleted natural seagrasses in the lagoon to the point where no one knows if the unprecedented hand-feeding experiment will work.

What's happening: In Citrus County, where 21 deaths have been reported this year, a company is transporting excess sea grass from Kings Bay to feed the four resident manatees at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

State of play: At least 1,038 manatees have died in Florida waters this year through Dec. 3, a troublesome new annual record.

  • Officials anticipate a high number of deaths along Florida's Atlantic Coast this winter, even with supplemental grass.

By the numbers: Manatees can eat 15% of their body weight in seagrass a day β€” some 80 to 150 pounds of vegetation.

  • The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say this type of trial has never been done, so officials don't know how many manatees will feed or how much vegetation each will consume.

What they're saying: "The goal of this action is to reduce manatee mortality," the groups said in a press release. "It will not eliminate it."

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