FWC to use ‘supplemental feeding’ for manatees as their food sources disappear

Published: December 7, 2021 2:35 PM EST
Updated: December 7, 2021 4:09 PM EST

Florida manatees face a record-breaking year for deaths, more than 1,000 Florida manatees have died in 2021, but there may be an answer to helping the malnourished sea cows.

Though it’s illegal to feed manatees, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) approved a decision to allow supplemental feeding.

Save the Manatee Club Executive Director Patrick Rose said he knows why the manatees are dying. “Within the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), and particularly the northern IRL, we’ve seen about 95% of the biomass of seagrass is lost, and so while we had many, many manatees dependent on those food resources, they’re essential, and it’s nearly wiped out.”

FGCU Water School Professor Dr. Mike Parsons believes it all comes down to water quality. “What are the conditions that are needed to support healthy seagrasses? They need light, and to have really good light levels, we need less nutrients and less turbidity in the water. So the water quality all ties in together to that.”

So, federal regulators and the state will bend the rules to help the starving manatees.

It’s against the law to feed manatees, but FWS and FWC came up with what they call a “supplemental feeding” plan. They will target malnourished manatees.

In a statement FWC said:

The Unified Command does have approval to move forward on a limited feeding trial. Details are still being worked out and a more formal announcement will be made later this week.

“There’s a lot of logistical work that’s going to have to be put into that, and it’s literally being improved on an experimental testing basis,” said Rose.

And while it would be a short-term solution, Rose said, “it will not be able to replace all the food the manatees have missed from the catastrophic loss of seagrass, again from the human pollution that’s caused the algal blooms.”

It’s a sign our waterways need long-term help too.

If you see a sick or dead manatee, you can call the FWC hotline at 1-888-404-3922. You can also click here to learn more about reporting a sick or dead manatee.