Southern Agenda

Manatee Victories

An illustration of a grey manatee with heads of lettuce

Recent winters have cast a pall on Florida’s gentle giants: Major seagrass die-offs due to algal blooms meant food for manatees was scarce, and so many of them were starving that conservation organizations intervened with lettuce feedings to pull the mammals on the east coast through the past two seasons. But scientists are hopeful this year as the water grows cold and the state’s seven thousand surviving manatees move inland to warm waterways. “We haven’t had a serious harmful algal bloom in the Indian River Lagoon, the worst affected area, so the seagrass is returning,” says Andrew Walker, the president and CEO of the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida. The nonprofit has bought some six hundred thousand pounds of emergency lettuce, plus facilitated seven seagrass restoration projects around the state, with another three on the docket, including one in Biscayne Bay. “If we need to feed every year, that’s what we’ll do,” Walker says. “But the key is getting our seagrasses back so we don’t have to.”