Manatees at risk of starvation in Florida have started eating emergency food provided by wildlife authorities, who are attempting to save the marine mammals with an experimental feeding program, officials said Friday, according to The Associated Press.
Manatees are starving because water pollution has led to the death of native seagrass. A record number of manatees, more than 1,000, died in 2021, the AP reported.
Officials at a test facility at the Indian River Lagoon in central Florida have provided romaine lettuce for manatees as part of the program. They are also adding cabbage and another kind of lettuce to further encourage the animals to eat, according to the wire service.
Around 25 to 30 manatees were spotted near the feeding site on Friday, the AP reported, while hundreds more were seen in nearby areas.
Ron Mezich, chief of the program’s provisioning branch at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the news was “significant” during a press conference, according to the AP.
“When the animals are there, we will continue to offer food and hope they take advantage of that,” he said.
The program will not, for the moment, expand to other parts of Florida outside of the Brevard County area the testing site is located in, officials said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in December proposed allocating $195 million for targeted water quality improvements and $35 million to improve water quality and combat harmful algae blooms in a state budget proposal for fiscal year 2022-2023.
Meanwhile, wildlife experts are also working with facilities such as Florida zoos and marine aquariums to rehabilitate manatees that are found alive but in distress, with 159 of the animals being rescued last year, the AP noted.