Saving Florida’s starving manatees

Over 1,000 manatees died in the state of Florida in 2021, most from starvation due to a lack of seagrass to eat around the Indian River Lagoon.

To help prevent a similar fate in 2022, the state is prepared to feed emergency rations of romaine lettuce to the threatened mammals, should an unusually cold winter worsen conditions. When waters are warm, manatees are not forced to cluster near power plants for warmth and can search freely for food.

Seagrass is the preferred diet of manatees. But water pollution is making healthy vegetation scarce around the Indian River Lagoon, located on the Atlantic and running 156 miles from the Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach.
Storm runoff from fertilizers and pesticides create a lethal soup that encourages algae blooms shutting out seagrass growth. Sea level rise and warmer waters compound the issue.

It is illegal for the public to feed manatees, which require a special diet. Feeding them lessens their fear of people, a situation that could put them in harm’s way, according to the Save the Manatee Club. Generally manatees are in danger of colliding with speeding boats.

They normally eat from 100 to 200 pounds of vegetation a day to maintain their weight, which ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 pounds.

In late December, environmental groups initiated action to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for not requiring Florida to stem pollution that killed the manatees in 2021 and continues to impact the species and others.

The EPA has 60 days to respond before a lawsuit is filed.

To report a sick manatee
Contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Alert Hotline through one of these options:
Call 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Call #FWC or *FWC from your cell phone.