Sustainability Environment

Florida to begin emergency hand-feeding of manatees amid epic crisis

Story at a glance

  • An effort to save endangered manatees along Florida’s Atlantic coast led officials to undertake an extensive feeding and rescue operation that will involve hand feeding the mammals.
  • The plan was jointly approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
  • Preliminary mortality data shows 1,038 have already died this year.

An effort to save endangered manatees along Florida’s Atlantic coast led officials to undertake an extensive feeding and rescue operation that will involve hand feeding the mammals romaine lettuce. 

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The plan was jointly approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and will feed malnourished manatees whose vital food source has been depleted.

Officials are setting up a temporary field response station on the Indian River Lagoon where experts estimate a 90 percent loss in seagrass biomass, according to CBS 12

“Our agencies and Unified Command partners carefully considered all aspects of a short-term feeding trial,” Shannon Estenoz, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said in a release. “It is critical we help manatees in the short term with actions that are compatible with their long-term wellbeing and resilience.”

Depleted resources in polluted waters contributed to a record setting mortality rate in 2021 as preliminary mortality data shows 1,038 have already died this year. The number is up from 534 in 2020. 

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“They are starving, and I see it in person,” Paul Fafeita, president of the Clean Water Coalition of Indian River county, told CBS12. “I’m out there all the time. I’m witnessing it. It’s heart wrenching.”

“You fix it now, or a couple of years you don’t have to fix it because it will be too far gone,” Fafeita added. 


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