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Manatee Feeding Program May Resume in December

A Florida manatee cow and calf.
WQCS file
Keith Ramos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A Florida manatee cow and calf.

Florida - Wednesday November 16, 2022: As the first cold front of the season moves into the state, officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service said they're getting ready to re-launch the temporary manatee feeding program.

The program began last year in the wake of a manatee die off caused by a lack of sea grass, the manatees primary food source. Under the program, fresh lettuce was feed to the manatees in the Indian River Lagoon to sustain them throughout the winter months.

As of Wednesday, the temperature of the water in the Indian River Lagoon was 74 degrees, still warm, said FWC’s Ron Mezich, who is the section leader for the program. But he said they'll be ready to resume the program by the first week of December, as the water temperature of the Lagoon begins to cool.

“We are going to continue the supplemental feeding program at the Cape Canaveral FP&L power plant," Mezich. "Time-wise, we’re kinda of waiting for environmental conditions and the manatees to tell us when. It looks like weather-wise we’re good up until December 1 right now.”

This is the second year for the feeding program in response to what Fish and Wildlife calls an unusual mortality event that claimed the lives of over a-thousand manatees last year, most of whom died from starvation. This year, through November 4th, 735 have died.

"We’re still in an unusual mortality event," said Tom Reinert, FWC’s Regional Director. "We still expect some manatees to die because of the situation. But we’re doing everything we can in terms of habitat restoration and working with our partners on water quality addressing the root causes of it.”

The root causes are pollution and the nutrient fueled algae growth in the Indian River Lagoon which has blocked the sunlight sea grass needs to grow and left manatees with little to eat. But Mezich said it’s getting better. “Water clarity in the lagoon for the last 12 to 13 months has been really good. And there is a little bit sea grass growth in some areas of the Lagoon and Mosquito Lagoon, and so that’s good news. But its still projected to take a number of years for recovery to get to the point where we would be more comfortable.”

Mezich also emphasized that the manatee die-off is primarily occurring in the Indian River lagoon. “Just keep in mind that this is an event that is significant on the Atlantic coast, but we have three other management units in the state, St. John’s River, northwest Florida, and southwest Florida, and those manatees aren’t suffering from this event. So we’re all in on recovery of sea grasses in the Lagoon and this will remain a temporary process of feeding a wild population that we hope we can end it as soon as possible.”

To report a tagged, sick, injured or dead manatee call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Toll-Free Number: 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922), press "7" to speak with an operator.

Cellular phone customers should enter - *FWC or #FWC.