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Wildlife agencies brace for cold-stressed manatees

The vast majority of manatee deaths have been in the Indian River Lagoon, a biologically diverse east coast estuary that has been plagued with water quality problems and widespread seagrass losses.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
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The vast majority of manatee deaths have been in the Indian River Lagoon, a biologically diverse east coast estuary that has been plagued with water quality problems and widespread seagrass losses.

The first major cold snap of the season is likely to pressure Florida’s ailing manatees.

Wildlife agencies say they have positioned rescuers across the east coast to respond to cold-stressed manatees.

The effort comes after a record 1,100 manatees died last year in Florida. Many died from starvation related to a widespread loss of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon.

Michelle Pasawicz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says manatees already have started gathering for warmth and lettuce at a Brevard County power plant.

“It’s hard to know exactly how much of that is consumed by the manatees, but we did see that they are consuming it. And while we do strive to remove any uneaten vegetation from the water after the manatees have left, I can say we did not have to remove any this time.”

The wildlife agencies began offering lettuce last winter for starving manatees at the power plant. The manatees’ emaciated state makes them more vulnerable to cold stress.

Andy Garrett of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says so far this year there have been 105 manatee rescues -- 70 along the east coast.

“Some of these initial cold fronts have moved manatees into the warm water sites, but I think there are still a lot of manatees that are scattered. So this cold is going to be a big challenge. As that water temperature drops there are some potential issues. We anticipate there could be an uptick in live and dead strandings.”  

Amy Green covers the environment and climate change at WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist and author whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s work has been heard on NPR and seen in PEOPLE, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, among many other publications. She began her career at The Associated Press in Nashville, Tenn. Amy grew up in Florida and lives in Orlando with her 7-year-old daughter.
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