Wildlife officials in Florida are relaunching a program in December 2022 to feed manatees in a coastal area where many congregate in the winter, part of efforts to address the aquatic mammals’ chronic malnutrition caused by the disappearance of seagrasses they feed on…A key factor for the depletion of seagrasses is poor water quality in the Indian River Lagoon, an estuary spanning 156 miles of Florida’s eastern coast that draws many manatees.
The situation highlights a broader problem with polluted waterways in Florida. Algal blooms have broken out in numerous areas in recent years, fueled by nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from improperly treated sewage, leaking septic tanks and fertilizer runoff, according to researchers. The outbreaks pose a threat to Florida’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism in coastal areas.
In 2021, mainly January to March, state and federal wildlife officials provided over 202,000 pounds of romaine lettuce, butter lettuce and cabbage to manatees gathering in warm water discharged by a power plant on the Indian River Lagoon. Many of the mammals, which typically are about 10 feet long and weigh more than 1,000 pounds, seek refuge there when waters cool in winter.
Excerpt from Arian Campo-Flores Florida Restarts Push to Feed Manatees, WSJ, Dec. 25, 2022