Supplemental feeding: a new effort to save manatees is underway

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Over a thousand manatees have died in Florida this year, many from starvation. Efforts are underway to save manatees and hold accountable those responsible. Human-fueled algae blooms have killed seagrasses in some areas of the state. Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and Save the Manatee Club’s Executive Director, says this has led to unprecedented manatee starvation.

“We’ve lost 95% of the 77,000 acres of seagrass that existed in that portion of the Indian River Lagoon,” Rose said. “More than 1,075 manatees that have died, six or 700 died from starvation. That’s something that’s never happened before.”

Problems in the Indian River Lagoon, where manatees gather and feed, started in 2011 with a super bloom of algae that killed almost all seagrasses. Come winter, hungry manatees traveling to warmer waters faced a choice; forage for food or die from cold stress.

Manatees dying from starvation in record numbers

“Without the ability to go out on the warmer days and find food nearby,” Rose said, “They had to just choose to stay there and see if they physiologically could last the winter, and hundreds of them didn’t.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced an experimental supplemental diet plan in response to the deaths. That doesn’t mean the public should feed manatees in the wild. In fact, that could cause further harm.

“What we hope is going to be radically different this winter, is that there are going to be efforts for the Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife to provide supplemental food for some of those manatees over this winter,” Rose said.

Possible lawsuit underway

Save the Manatee Club joined Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity in pursuing legal action against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The notice was filed this week, demanding higher water quality standards in the Indian River Lagoon, to reverse seagrass loss and manatee mortality. The feds have 90 days to respond before a formal lawsuit is filed.

“It is technically illegal to feed manatees or give them water because it does disrupt their natural movements and behavior,” Rose said.

Rose says the public can help by reporting malnourished manatees to the FWC at 1-888-404-FWCC. Practice “sea-grass safe” boating and reduce harmful fertilizer use at home. For more information, visit

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