An experimental mission by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Fee (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has fed greater than 55 tons of lettuce to ravenous manatees to date this winter, officers stated in a convention name final week, according to the Associated Press.
A record 1,101 manatees in Florida died in 2021, which is considered about 10 p.c of the threatened species’ total inhabitants within the state. The primary two months of 2022 noticed one other 375 recorded manatee deaths. Many of the fatalities are attributed to water air pollution that has depleted coastal seagrass—the animals’ most well-liked meals supply—within the Indian River Lagoon, the place manatees congregate in winter.
“Questioning why lettuce as a substitute of vegetation that manatees naturally graze on?” writes the FWC in a recent Facebook post. “We consulted with manatee specialists and veterinarians and decided leafy greens had been the best choice for offering vitamins throughout this restricted, short-term trial.”
The state and federal wildlife businesses introduced in November they had been forming a Joint Incident Management Team to coordinate their emergency response after U.S. Fish and Wildlife formally declared the manatee die-offs alongside Florida’s Atlantic Coast an “Uncommon Mortality Occasion.” The unprecedented feeding program is a key a part of that response. At a feeding web site positioned at Florida Energy & Gentle, officers have fed as a lot as 3,000 pounds of donated romaine lettuce each day to as many as 800 manatees at a time.
Throughout the latest convention name, officers stated the supplemental feeding effort is making an impression—and that extra could also be required within the coming weeks. The hassle to assist ravenous manatees make it via the winter has drawn robust help from personal donors, who’ve made greater than 1,000 particular person presents. Among the many teams elevating cash for the initiative is the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, which additionally helps with the rescue and rehabilitation of burdened manatees. The company is at the moment caring for greater than 80 animals at its amenities.
Florida’s manatee inhabitants has grown to a minimum of 7,520, in line with Florida Fish and Wildlife Fee. Manatees had been as soon as listed as an endangered species. They had been reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened” below the federal Endangered Species Act in Might 2017, however latest die-offs have led to requires a return of the endangered standing.
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Though Florida legislators have supplied $8 million for seagrass restoration tasks final 12 months, these habitat enhancements are thought of long-term options. Feeding is seen as a stopgap measure to assist ravenous manatees survive the chilly months after they congregate round warm-water sources similar to energy vegetation. As soon as the climate warms, officers say the animals will disperse into areas the place meals is extra plentiful.