Jan 18, 2023 - News

Wildlife officials bring back feeding program for Florida manatees

Manatee eating lettuce

A rescued manatee eats a head of lettuce at Miami Seaquarium in 2016. Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo

Leafy greens are back on the menu for manatees for the second year in a row.

What's happening: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started hand-feeding lettuce to manatees along Florida's eastern shore last month to get them through the first December cold front, Florida Today reports.

Why it matters: About 800 manatees died in Florida in 2022, the second-deadliest year ever recorded, according to preliminary Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) data released this month.

  • The federal wildlife agency is considering whether to reclassify the rotund West Indian manatee and subspecies β€” including the Florida manatee β€” as endangered, which environmentalists have been calling for in order to ensure more resources to help stop the die-off.

How we got here: An "unusual mortality event" that started in the Indian River Lagoon in December 2020 β€” starvation, from grass beds depleted by pollution and runoff β€” contributed to a record 1,100 reported manatee deaths in 2021 alone.

  • That's 13% of the subspecies' estimated population in one year.

What we're watching: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until February to decide whether to reclassify the Florida manatee.

  • Researchers, meanwhile, are working to accelerate seagrass recovery after two related bills failed in the legislature. Seagrass, which manatees feed on, has been dying off throughout Florida's coastal waters, particularly in Tampa Bay, Florida Politics reports.

What else: $5.3 million was added to the state budget last year to fund Florida's Manatee Rescue and Mortality Response initiative, floating 12 employees and rescue vehicles.

  • The state also gave The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature a grant last summer to build a new facility in Myakka to care for manatees.

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