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First Coast

DeSantis comes to Jacksonville to promise $30 million for struggling manatees

Manatee feeding.jpg
Will Brown
/
WJCT News
A manatee feeds at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Speaking at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed Monday that $30 million in state funding will be devoted to protecting manatees, which are dying in record numbers in Florida's waterways.

The money would come through the state's proposed $112.1 billion budget for next year. The Legislature has not officially sent DeSantis the budget, but he expressed support for budget items aimed at helping manatees.

“It will enhance and expand the network of acute care facilities like the one right here at Jacksonville Zoo to treat injured and distressed manatees,” DeSantis said. 

The zoo opened a manatee rehabilitation facility in 2017, the first in Northeast Florida. In the past, any manatee found to be cold-stressed or injured around the First Coast needed to be transported to other care centers in Orlando, Tampa or Miami.

Once animals have recovered in Jacksonville, they are released back into the wild.

DeSantis zoo.jpg
Will Brown
/
WJCT News
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks Monday at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that 527 manatees have died this year. The number was down from 694 at the same point in 2021, when a record 1,101 manatee deaths were reported. But it remains far higher than in other years, as it was up from 239 through April 22, 2020, and 219 through April 22, 2019.

The proposed 2022-2023 budget, which will take effect July 1, would designate $20 million for the network of acute-care facilities that treat injured and distressed manatees, manatee rescue efforts, habitat restoration and pilot projects such as the feeding of lettuce to manatees this past winter.

The FWC fed manatees that had been starving because poor water quality and algae blooms depleting seagrass beds that are prime foraging areas. State and federal wildlife officials anticipate they might again have to provide lettuce to manatees gathering in East Coast waters next winter.

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.