The experimental feeding and rescue plan to save the manatees from starvation had started slowly as winter approached in Florida.
Wildlife officials found optimism as cold weather pushes aquatic marine mammals to warm waters where they had established feeding stations along the state’s east coast to lure wild manatees with romaine lettuce.
Officials told a news conference that a total of 1,101 manatees died of starvation in 2021 due to algal blooms that decimated the seagrass beds the manatees depend on, triggered by sea pollution. water from various sources.
The typical five-year average of deaths is around 625.
Slow-moving sea mammals will soon begin to congregate at warm-water sites such as power plants as ocean temperatures cool, and there may not be enough sea grasses. to support them, officials at the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.
Lettuce Feeding Program
(Photo: Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HOMOSASSA, FL – OCTOBER 05: A manatee swims among seagrass in the Homosassa River on October 05, 2021 in Homosassa, Florida. Conservationists, including those from the Homosassa River Restoration Project, are planting seagrass beds in the area to help restore natural habitat for manatees and provide a feeding ground for mammals, after record year of manatee deaths in Florida. Deaths were mainly due to starvation due to the loss of seagrass beds.
As a result, this concern had driven the Lettuce Feeding Program, which was part of a joint group response to manatee deaths led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Feeding manatees on your own remains a violation of federal and state law.
“We have not documented any animals feeding on lettuce,” said Ron Mezich, head of the joint effort’s supply arm. “We know that manatees eat lettuce.”
Hundreds of these herbivorous marine mammals typically feed in the warmer waters of natural springs and power plant dumps during the winter, which is unusual in Florida.
“They’re moving, but they’re not pressed by the cold temperatures yet,” said Tom Reinert, southern regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We expect that to happen.”
Additionally, officials work with a number of facilities to rehabilitate distressed manatees, such as Florida Zoos, SeaWorld Theme Park, and Marine Aquariums.
“Our facilities are at or near capacity,” said Andy Garrett, chief rescue and recovery officer. “These animals need long-term care. It’s been a tremendous amount of work so far.”
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“Use your dollars not heads of lettuce”
Reinert himself sees the situation as dire. He believes that the root of the famine problem are polluted waters and therefore be tackled by the root.
Feeding lettuce, especially by random people, will cause more harm and distress than good, as manatees associate humans with food, officials say, and people and manatees have struggled to coexist ever since. decades.
According to state statistics, there are currently at least 7,520 manatees in Florida waters. The slow moving mammals are on the verge of restoring the endangered label due to starvation deaths, although they are bouncing back from being endangered to threatened.
Officials have also earmarked $8 million in public funds for several projects in an effort to save manatee habitat and plant new seagrass beds. However, as mentioned before, the process will be slow until the ultimate problem is solved, which is to improve pollution. waters.
To help save manatees in distress, sightings can be reported to the wildlife hotline or a monetary donation through a state-sponsored fund or by purchasing a Save the Manatee vehicle license plate.
Also read: Fossil of an extinct ‘sea dragon’ is hailed as the largest ever found in the UK
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