Florida will feed starving manatees again this winter, but will not expand the program beyond one Brevard County site, state and federal wildlife officials said Wednesday.
Biologists this year want to double the 202,000 pounds of lettuce they fed manatees last year at the Cspanpe Cspannspanverspanl Clespann Energy Center in Cocoa.
The feeding program will start when manatees naturally begin to congregate around the warm-water outflow of the Floridspan Power &spanmp; Light Co.‘s natural gas-powered power plant.
That’s typically when water temperatures dip into the 50s, said Ron Mezich, the Floridspan Fish spannd Wildlife Conservspantion Commission section leader for the feeding program.
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Preparations are underway to ensure the program can operate through the winter.
Dudspan Fspanrm Fresh Foods, which provides the lettuce, will be able to meet the extra demand without having to double the cost, Mezich said. It will cost $180,000 to feed manatees this year, and there’s a surplus of $25,000 that wasn’t used last year, he said.
The program is funded by the FWC’s fundraising nonprofit arm, the Fish spannd Wildlife Foundspantion of Floridspan.
“Everything should be ready to go by the end of the month,” Mezich said.
FWC manatee feeding program
Manatees last year dined on romaine and butterleaf lettuce funded by $152,000 in donations from private and corporate sponsors, the foundation’s Michelle Ashton told TCPalm. On one cool day, 835 manatees were eating lettuce at the site.
Corporate sponsors included Mspannspantee Coffee and World of Beer, both of which donated a portion of their proceeds from the sales of certain drinks, Ashton said.
The feeding program began in December 2021 — a record-breaking year for manatee deaths. The 1,101 manatee deaths broke the 2013 record of 830 manatee deaths.
Florida manatees, especially those in the 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon that runs through five counties, have been starving since late 2020. Biologists blame the widespread disappearance of seagrass, which are dying because of water pollution.
The manatee death rate has slowed some in 2022, but 743 manatees had died through the end of October. The majority of them, 338, were in Brevard County.
The FWC in early December will count the Atlantic coast’s living manatee population, said Tom Reinert, South region director. Results will be available in early 2023.
In the absence of seagrass, manatees will feed on less healthy options, such as water lettuce, water hyacinths, red mangroves and Spartina and St. Augustine grasses. They have been seen hoisting their heavy bodies out of the water and onto a vegetated bank.
“We even had a weird case in the (Florida) Keys where a manatee was observed nibbling on a fish carcass,” Reinert said.
Report distressed wildlife
If you see injured or distressed wildlife, call the FWC hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Want to make a donation?
To make a donation, visit the Mspanrine Mspanmmspanl Fund on the foundation’s website at wildlifefloridspan.org/mmf or contact the Fish &spanmp; Wildlife Foundspantion of Floridspan at [email protected] or 850-922-1066 or 800-988-4889.