Florida wildlife officials announced Wednesday details of a new, first-of-its-kind feeding plan for manatees in state waters to slow record death and starvation rates for animals this year, and the power company whose facility will be the program’s home. Giving $700,000 for the program.
The program will take place at Florida Power and Light’s Cape Canaveral plant, where the warm waters produced by the plant attract groups of animals while the ocean cools in winter. Manatees will be fed by humans, although officials have stressed that it is still illegal for civilians to feed wild animals in Florida.
Water pollution from farms and state sewage generates harmful organisms such as blue-green algae, which kill or stifle the growth of underwater seaweed, the main source of food for manatees.
More than 1,000 manatees have died in the state this year, a state record, and officials said about 7,000 to 8,000 manatees were left in the oceans around the state.
The program is a temporary measure as the state spends millions to improve water quality in other common seaweed growing areas such as the Indian River Lagoon, a manatee sanctuary in winter.
Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced $481 million to improve water quality, with about $53 million being used in the Indian River Lagoon area, according to the Associated Press.
The plan is a radical step taken by what Save the Manatee Club CEO Patrick Rose told the Associated Press last week is necessary because the record number of deaths constitutes an emergency that requires unprecedented action.
Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility, is allocating $700,000 for a “temporary field response station” to feed manatees. The money is also earmarked for the rescue and rehabilitation of distressed manatees, the company said in a press release.
“The eyes of the world are on this,” Wildlife Commission Chairman Rodney Barretto said. “We have to do it right.”
Manatees are close relatives of elephants and can live up to 65 years, but they reproduce slowly.
Some are killed by boat strikes and many are scarred by those collisions, but what is even more worrying is that many are starving because polluted waters kill the seaweed on which they depend.
“We all know the primary problem is water quality,” said Larry Williams, Florida state superintendent for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, adding that other marine creatures will soon suffer as well. “They retract too, just like manatees.”
Mike Sully, a member of the Florida Wildlife Commission and an executive at parent company NextEra Energy Inc. The manatee death crisis is “really just a symptom” of the larger pollution problem.
“We also have to focus on treating water quality,” Sol said.
Continuous efforts must be made to restore manatee-friendly seagrass beds and clean up the polluted waters that are causing the problem, Barreto, president of the Florida Wildlife Commission, said.
“This isn’t about taking a picture,” Barreto said. “We want to make sure the herd survives.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.