Manatees are one of the world’s strangely adored species. Their bulbous, gently wandering bodies have given them the moniker “sea cows,” and they’re cute in a “so ugly it’s cute” kind of way. They are a migratory species that congregates mostly in the waters of Florida in the United States.
Manatees, however, are also dying at an alarming pace, despite the fact that they were only removed off the endangered species list in 2017. Nearly 10% of Florida’s manatee population perished in the first nine months of 2021, more than double the five-year average. Many of the manatees died as a result of water quality concerns that hampered the growth of seagrass, which is one of the manatee’s main food sources.
Boat collisions, habitat degradation, and toxic algal blooms are all threats to the species, but far too many people are dying of hunger. Since 2009, at least 58 percent of the seagrass in the northern Indian River Lagoon has been destroyed, while at least 96 percent of the seagrass in the Banana River has vanished, according to WUSF. Manatees have historically used both river environments as wintering grounds.
Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have staged a salad intervention to assist prevent hunger. Around 350 manatees are already gathering at a makeshift field reaction station in Cape Canaveral to get their daily supply of romaine and butter lettuce, according to CNN. Since its inception, the feeding program has fed between 25 and 800 manatees every day.
Officials believe the sea cows salad bar, which serves 3,000 pounds of lettuce every day, is helping.
“We have been successful up to this point. The romaine lettuce is being eaten by manatees “The FWC’s Ron Mezich told CNN. “We’re introducing a lot of animals to this food source, and it’s making an impact.” He claims that the lettuce has minerals and digestible carbs that marine cows require.
The initiative, which is mostly sponsored by public donations, will run through March.
As a result of their efforts, the FWC hopes to see a decrease in manatee fatality rates. As of February 11, 261 manatees have died in the state, with the majority of them still awaiting necropsies to identify the reason of death.
Following guidelines for wise use of waterways, supporting wildlife protection legislation, reducing and cleaning up pollution along beaches and waterways, and encouraging leaders to take meaningful action on climate change are all ways that everyone can help these gentle giants have a healthy future.
However, don’t try to feed the manatees by throwing your own salad into the water. Officials advise leaving the lettuce to the professionals.