Algae blooms triggered by water pollution caused an unprecedented number manatee deaths in 2021. In an effort to slow manatee starvation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has started a new manatee feeding program.
Warmer temperatures and fertilizer run-off from sugar farms and other agricultural sites, as well as city sewage, has caused an overgrowth of blue-green algae, which has decimated the seagrass manatees normally eat. A record 1,101 manatees died in 2021. The 5-year average has only been 625, so this dramatic jump is very concerning to wildlife experts.
In colder months, manatees tend to gather in warmer waters, particularly near power plants. Unfortunately due to the algae bloom killing off seagrass beds, there may not be enough food to sustain the manatees once they arrive in these areas.
A romaine lettuce feeding station has been set up at the Florida Power & Light plant in Cape Canaveral in hopes of reducing manatee starvation deaths this winter. While this program has not been tried before, experts are remaining optimistic and believe the manatees will eat the lettuce once they have made their way to the location.
If you are boating in an area populated by manatees, abide by speed regulations, turn off your motor over shallow grass beds, and stay at least 50 feet away from any manatees you see. Keep in mind that it is illegal to feed a manatee on your own. If you see a distressed manatee, call and report it to 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).