St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP) — Feeding wild animals is generally considered off-limits, but the dire situation of more than 1,000 manatees dying of starvation in Florida due to man-made pollution has prompted officials to consider an unprecedented feeding plan Still working.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and state environmental officials intend to unveil a limited proposal this week to test how it works, feeding furry marine mammals in a specific Florida location. Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club, said this is not usually done with any wild animal, but the situation has become such an emergency that it needs to be considered.
The club was founded in 1981 by Florida troubleshooter Jimmy Buffet and former governor and US Sen. Bob Graham.
“It’s the entire ecosystem that is affected by this and will continue to be affected for a decade to come,” Rose said in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s a necessary stopgap measure. It’s a man-made problem and man has to solve it.”
A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said in an email that the agency “has approval to proceed on limited feeding testing” but that details have not yet been finalized. A formal announcement is expected later this week.
The emerging plan would include feeding manatees along the Indian River Lagoon on the East Coast at the Florida Power and Light Plant at Cape Canaveral, where manatees congregate during the cold winter months due to the discharge of warm water from the plant. Rose said it would be an experiment in which lettuce, cabbage and other greens are delivered in a controlled manner such as through a conveyor belt.
People will not be authorized to start throwing lettuce into the Gulf of Florida at any point.
“Under no circumstances do we want people to feed manatees. It is illegal, and remains so,” Rose said.
Manatees have long struggled to survive alongside humans. Hundreds of slow-moving animals are killed by boats each year, leading to no-wake manatee zones across Florida, with significant fines imposed for violations. But as of November 19, a record 1,017 manatees have died due to the threat of starvation, according to state figures.
As winter approaches, another bad year is expected in Florida, too.
This is mainly due to runoff from farms, urban areas and sewage which promotes the growth of blue-green algae and other harmful organisms. This shuts off the light needed by the seagrass, eliminating the main food source for the manatees. Climate change that worsens algae blooms is also a factor.
And it’s not just manatees. Algae blooms can affect the health of a wide range of aquatic organisms, from crabs to dolphins. In addition to protecting the animals, there are economic losses for boat captains, sightseeing and others who come to Florida for a chance to see these creatures.
“Literally, saving manatees is part of saving the ecosystem. Manatees will flourish if we can pay attention to it. If we don’t, they won’t,” Rose said. “We are in the most critical position.”
Manatees were listed as endangered by the federal government for years, but their numbers have increased enough in 2017—officials say Florida has 7,000 to 8,000 animals—that their status was endangered. . Several Florida politicians, including Republican US Rep. Vern Buchanan, are pushing for reinstatement of endangered status that brings them more attention and resources.