Following record die-off, wildlife officials share unprecedented plan to feed Florida manatees

While federal officials have to share the scope of their feeding plan, they did remind the public that feeding wild manatees is illegal.

click to enlarge ERIC CARLANDER/ADOBE
Eric Carlander/Adobe
The situation with Florida manatees has become so dire that officials are working up a plan to feed them through the winter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to lift its own restrictions on feeding manatees to help the animals that gather in the Indian River lagoon this winter.

Manatees tend to cluster in springs and around power plants, drawn to the warmer waters that they need to survive. The area of Indian River lagoon was chosen both because of its known status as a manatee magnet and the dire state of the seagrass found in the area.

Seagrass is the manatees main source of food and recent algae blooms caused by pollution and warm waters have killed off a significant amount of it throughout the state. More than 1000 manatees have died in the state of Florida in 2021, mostly due to starvation. Almost 96 percent of the seagrass in Indian River lagoon has died, which could lead to a terrible situation when the manatees begin to cluster there.

Save The Manatee Club executive director Patrick Rose told the Washington Post that manatees have been seen eating grasses and leaves typically outside of their diet from hunger.

“They’re grazing on any low mangrove leaves they can find, and if there’s a lawn somewhere near where they happen to be in a canal system, they’re trying to eat grass off the bank,” Rose said. “They are struggling.”

While federal officials have to share the scope of their feeding plan, they did remind the public that feeding wild manatees is illegal.

This article first appeared at our sister publication Orlando Weekly.