State and federal experts, for the first time, will institute a feeding program for manatees in an effort to fend off a unusual mortality event centered along Florida’s East Coast.
So far in 2021, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports 1,038 manatees have died, and experts believe many of the deaths are from a reduction of food sources.
Dr. Tracy Fanara, an environmental engineer and research scientist, has monitored the die-off and said action is needed, especially during winter.
"In the northern Indian River Lagoon, about 90 percent of seagrass has been lost," Fanara said.
The reduced aquatic vegetation is bad news for the massive sea cows because the average mammal eats upwards of 10 percent of its body weight every day.
Fanara said under the program, specialists will feed the animals greens such as cabbage and lettuce, with the goal of providing a supplemental feeding source in the Indian River Lagoon area of Central Florida.
Experts associated with the pilot program warn that they don’t know if the manatees will feed on the provided vegetation or if the efforts will help reduce the mortality rate.
"I’m hoping that this plan will be successful and that it’ll give the animals some relief during the winter months," Fanara said.
Fanara hopes that if the pilot program is successful, agencies will expand feeding operations to other areas of the Sunshine State.