TAMPA BAY, FLORIDA — According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, last year was a tough one for the Sunshine State’s manatees. Around 800 of them succumbed to malnutrition on the Atlantic coast.
Scientists believe that the main culprit behind these unnecessary deaths is pollution in the Indian River Lagoon, an important manatee habitat. The pollution has allegedly had a negative impact on the growth of seagrass – the manatees’ main source of nutrition.
Manatees need an exorbitant amount of seagrass to stay healthy and happy – on average 100 pounds per day. A volunteer initiative has been launched to feed lettuce to the manatees. So far, about 30,000 pounds of lettuce has been fed to manatees in the Indian River Lagoon, and another 25,000 pounds are on the way, according to the Associated Press.
Although the number of unnecessary deaths seems very high, the situation for the manatees was far worse in 2021, when around 1,100 of them suffered a premature death. Scientists confirmed that 84 of the deaths in 2021 were caused by red tide in the Gulf of Mexico. But in 2022, only a handful of manatees succumbed to the toxic algae bloom, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Out of the record $3.5 billion package that Governor DeSantis has dedicated to water and environmental restoration projects, $100 million will go directly to improve the state of the manatees’ most important habitat – the Indian River Lagoon. The funds will be used to improve water quality, reduce harmful nutrients and the planting of seagrass.