Comeback sign for manatees as fewer died here


Fewer manatee deaths were reported on the Treasure and Space coasts in 2023, but the species is still threatened.

The gentle giants of Florida’s inland waterways made a comeback this past winter, with the number of manatee fatalities cut in half from the level of the last two years.

From December 2020 through December 2022, more than 2,000 manatees perished in Florida, roughly 750 in the Indian River Lagoon. This past winter deaths plummeted to 556 statewide.

Most manatees that died starved to death during the two-year crisis, but this winter watercraft collisions, red tide and natural disasters caused the bulk of manatee deaths, with only 3 percent starving to death.

It is illegal to feed manatees, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bet on experimental lettuce feeding to replace native seagrass.

By February 2023, manatees ate 400,000 pounds of lettuce, costing $250,000. Heaters were even brought in to lure manatees, as the disappearance of Vero’s “Big Blue” and other waterfront power plants left fewer warm havens.

Less polluted areas spawned the comeback. “That allowed this recovery to occur on a more natural basis. The manatees were able to come into this winter healthier and they were able to be sustained through the winter healthier,” said Save the Manatee Club Executive Director Patrick Rose.

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