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Manatee feeding program ends Friday after serving up 96 tons of lettuce

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.

A supplemental feeding program that served up more than 193,000 pounds of lettuce to hungry manatees in the Indian River Lagoon is expected to end on Friday.

A record 1,101 manatees died in Florida last year, many from starvation in the sprawling lagoon. In winter, they gather near power plants. But excess nutrients from homes and farms have clouded the water with algae and killed much of the sea grass they eat.

State and federal wildlife officials are working together to address the unusual die-off of manatees. Already this year more than 440 have died. That's high, but not as bad as in 2021.

Ron Mezich, a branch chief with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, says it's unclear how many were saved with supplemental feeding.

"When we had our coldest weather this winter, we had upwards of 800 animals at the supplemental feeding site," he said on a press call. "That occurred for a few days. It was much more common to see numbers between 150 and 350 during January and mid-February."

The supplemental feeding program is ending as the manatees disperse, water temperatures rise and warm weather lies ahead.

Far fewer are showing up.

FWC Regional Director Tom Reinert says it's time for those manatees to move on from the feeding site near Cape Canaveral.

"One of the major tenets of that program was not to alter manatee behavior," he sad. "Those manatees do need to move out to their typical spring and summer areas and we want to encourage that. We don't want to artificially keep them in a spot that really doesn't have very much in terms of natural forage for them."

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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