HomeOutdoorsNewsFlorida Shipped More Than 200,000 Pounds of Lettuce to Starving Manatees

Florida Shipped More Than 200,000 Pounds of Lettuce to Starving Manatees

by Craig Garrett
(Photo by Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Authorities are having lettuce trucked in to feed starving manatees this winter along Florida’s east coast. An innovative program is providing much-needed supplies to the threatened creatures that are struggling to find food due to pollution. As winter nears and water temperatures begin to drop, a program that feeds lettuce to the marine mammals at a warm-water power plant near Cape Canaveral enters its second year.

Jon Wallace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service weighed in on the issue in an online news conference. “Now is the time for things to start ramping back up,” Wallace explained. “If we have a significant event this year, which we are hoping we won’t have, we’ll be ready for that.”

This is the second year of the feeding program, which was established after a record 1,101 manatee deaths in 2021. Most of these deaths were due to starvation, as pollution from farm runoff, urban development, and other sources has decimated the seagrass beds on which these animals depend. As of December 9th this year, 765 manatee deaths have been confirmed, reports Fox News.

State estimates claim that there are around 8,000 manatees residing in Florida. Although these animals have a lifespan of up to 65 years, they reproduce at a slow rate. Nutritionists last year fed 202,000 pounds of lettuce to manatees at the Cape Canaveral site. The first transportation of romaine and butterleaf lettuce—financed by growers or contributors—is scheduled for Thursday, said Ron Mezich of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

During cold months, manatees seek water near springs and power plants

Mezich said that the only place where they will be feeding the manatees is at this key site near where thousands of them congregate during cold months. Once the water reaches 68 degrees Fahrenheit, however, the sea creatures begin seeking warmer places near springs, power plants, and other locations. “This is the largest warm-water site in this area. Almost all animals know it and will visit it at some time,” he explained. “We are prepared to continue these efforts at least for the short term.”

Unfortunately, manatees have long battled to exist alongside humans. Dozens are regularly struck and injured by boats. In fact, it is rare to find an adult manatee without any scars from boat collisions. However, starvation is the most pressing threat they have faced in recent years. Several state-funded projects are underway to restore the vital seagrass. However, environmental groups say that human-caused pollution must be stopped for a more permanent solution.

A petition seeking changes to the manatee’s status was filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month, stating that it was a mistake to downgrade their listing from endangered to threatened in 2017. The large, curious sea creatures have been listed as endangered since 1973. One crucial aspect of the Florida feeding program that wildlife officials have noted is to stop manatees from connecting people with food. Mezich said that every care is taken to make sure that lettuce only appears at the specified location. “It looks like a gift from heaven rather than a hand from a person. We don’t want to change behavior,” he explained.