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Starving manatees get aid from FPL and wildlife officials

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
State and federal wildlife officials and Florida Power & Light Co. are taking steps to aid managees.

Wildlife officials, now teaming with the state’s largest electric utility, have approved an unusual step of feeding manatees that face another winter of limited food supplies in Florida waters.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Florida Power & Light Company announced combined efforts Wednesday to reduce manatee deaths that have reached a record level this year.

The state and federal agencies, which in November formed a Joint Incident Management Team to respond to the “unusual mortality event” along the state’s Atlantic coast, announced plans to use FPL’s Cape Canaveral Clean Energy Center in Brevard County as they conduct manatee rescues, recover carcasses, do health assessments and move forward with a short-term feeding trial.

“It is critical we help manatees in the short term with actions that are compatible with their long-term well-being and resilience,” Shannon Estenoz, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, said in a prepared statement.

The feeding program is aimed at reducing manatee deaths and the number of manatees that need to be rescued.

While feeding wildlife is discouraged, more than 1,000 manatees have died in Florida waters this year, about 15 percent of the population. The deaths have been caused in large part by a decline in seagrass beds that are prime winter foraging areas in the warm waters of the Indian River Lagoon.

The state estimates that 58% of the seagrasses have been lost in the northern Indian River Lagoon, which has faced repeated algae blooms over the past decade.