Florida Manatees Facing Starvation to Be Fed in Trial Program

Wildlife officials in Florida are preparing to feed manatees in the wild, an unprecedented response to the animals' mass starvation caused by the loss of seagrasses they normally eat. From a report: So far this year, 1,056 manatees have died in Florida, nearly double the average for the same period of the past five years, according to state data. While the record tally includes those killed by watercraft and other causes, malnourishment is the main reason propelling the increase, researchers say. The state's total manatee population numbered at least 5,733 in 2019, the most recent year in which officials conducted a count. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared an "unusual mortality event" along Florida's Atlantic coast this year -- a designation indicating a significant die-off that demands an immediate response. The problem can worsen in the winter when the animals congregate in warmer waters that have become devoid of food, researchers say. "The status of manatees going into this winter is so poor that without this supplemental feeding to help get them through, we're going to have hundreds and hundreds of [them] dying," said Patrick Rose, executive director of the advocacy group Save the Manatee Club. Seagrasses are disappearing because of deteriorating water quality caused by improperly treated sewage, leaking septic tanks and runoff containing fertilizer used for lawns and agriculture, researchers say. It's part of a broader threat to other marine species, they say, and to Florida's economy, which relies heavily on visitors drawn to the state's coastline.

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