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Wildlife agencies: Supplemental feedings for starving manatees likely a long-term effort

State and federal biologists provided supplemental lettuce earlier this year for starving manatees in the Indian River Lagoon. Photo courtesy FWC
In an effort to help manatees battle the cold temperatures, Florida Power & Light's Cape Canaveral Clean Energy Center has been heating the water on an emergency basis, to prevent as many manatees as possible from dying from the cold. State and federal biologists have been feeding manatees there since mid December to stave off a mass starvation that's been going on in the Indian River Lagoon for more than a year.

Wildlife agencies said Wednesday a new effort to provide starving manatees in the Indian River Lagoon with supplemental lettuce likely will be a long-term one. 

The agencies say the feedings likely will continue next winter, as the water quality problems and seagrass losses ailing manatees in the Indian River Lagoon will not be resolved anytime soon. 

Sarah Barrett of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the agencies are providing some 20,000 pounds of produce a week for the cold-sensitive manatees. 

“We did have cabbage a couple weeks ago, and we found that the animals were not as enticed by it as the romaine and butterleaf. So we’ve continued with those two varieties, and they seem to be eating those very well.” 

The agencies say they have spent some $18,000 on the produce. They say most of the cost is supported by donations to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida. 

The agencies say it’s too soon to tell whether the supplement lettuce is preventing more deaths. 

Hundreds of the cold-sensitive manatees have gathered recently at a Cape Canaveral power plant, where the agencies are providing the lettuce.

Tom Reinert of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says because the effort is unprecedented, the agencies aren’t sure how to define success. 

“We may never know because there are a lot of confounding factors. Climatic conditions are not the same from year to year, so it will be difficult to tell how much of an effect, if it’s measurable.” 

A record 1,100 manatees died last year in Florida. 

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.