Pollution is starving Florida manatees. Can this plan feed them?

Manatees in Florida are facing starvation due to man-made causes, which has prompted the government to think of innovative ways to feed the beloved animals. One limited proposal is to feed them using a conveyor belt along a specific route in Cape Canaveral.

Lynne Sladky/AP
Manatees gather in a canal where discharge from a nearby Florida Power & Light plant warms the water in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Dec. 28, 2010. The population of manatees had been rebounding, prompting their status to be changed from endangered to threatened in 2017.

Normally giving food to wild animals is considered off limits, but the dire situation in Florida with more than 1,000 manatees dying from starvation due to manmade pollution is leading officials to consider an unprecedented feeding plan.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service and state environmental officials intend to unveil a limited proposal this week to feed the beloved marine mammals in one specific Florida location to test how it works. This is not usually done with any wild animal, but the situation has become such an emergency that it has to be considered, said Save The Manatee Club Executive Director Patrick Rose.

The club was co-founded in 1981 by Florida troubadour Jimmy Buffet and former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

“It’s the entire ecosystem that is affected by this and will be affected for a decade to come,” Mr. Rose said in an interview Tuesday. “This is a necessary stopgap measure. It is a problem created by man and man is going to have to solve it.”

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said in an email that the agency “does have approval to move forward on a limited feeding trial” but that details are not yet finalized. A formal announcement is expected later this week.

The emerging plan would involve feeding manatees at a Florida Power & Light plant in Cape Canaveral, along the Indian River Lagoon on the east coast where manatees congregate in cold winter months because of the warm water discharge from the plant. It would be an experiment involving lettuce, cabbage, and other greens delivered in a controlled manner such as via a conveyer belt, Mr. Rose said.

People would not be authorized to simply start tossing lettuce into a Florida bay some place.

“Under no circumstances do we want people feeding manatees. It’s illegal, and remains so,” Mr. Rose said.

Manatees have long struggled to survive with humans. Hundreds of the slow-moving animals are struck every year by boats, which has led to no-wake manatee zones throughout Florida with violations punishable by significant fines. But the starvation threat has led to a record 1,017 manatee deaths as of Nov. 19, according to state figures.

As winter looms, even in Florida, another bad year is expected.

This has been caused mainly by runoff from farms, urban areas, and sewage that promotes growth of blue-green algae and other harmful organisms. It chokes off light needed by seagrass, eliminating the main food source for manatees. Climate change that worsens the algae blooms is also a factor.

And it’s not just manatees. People’s health can be affected by the algae blooms along with the health of a wide range of aquatic creatures, from crabs to dolphins. Aside from protecting the animals, there is an economic loss for boat captains, sightseeing tours, and others who flock to Florida for the chance to see these creatures.

“Literally, saving manatees is part of saving the ecosystem. If we can get this taken care of, manatees will flourish. If we don’t, they won’t,” Mr. Rose said. “We are in the most critical position.”

Manatees were listed as endangered for years by the federal government, but in 2017 their numbers appeared to have rebounded enough – officials say there are between 7,000 and 8,000 animals in Florida – that their status was downgraded to threatened. Several Florida politicians, including Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, have been pushing to restore the endangered status which brings more attention and resources to them.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Pollution is starving Florida manatees. Can this plan feed them?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today