By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press
St. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Normally, giving food to wild animals is considered illegal, but the dire situation in Florida with over 1,000 manatees starving to death from human-made pollution is leading authorities to consider an unprecedented diet plan.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and state environmental officials plan to unveil a limited proposal this week to feed beloved marine mammals in a specific location in Florida to test how it works. This is usually not done with a wild animal, but the situation has become such an emergency that it must be considered, said Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save The Manatee Club.
The club was co-founded in 1981 by Florida troubadour Jimmy Buffet and former US Governor and Senator Bob Graham.
“The whole ecosystem is affected by this and will be for a decade to come,” Rose said in an interview on Tuesday. “It is a necessary palliative. It is a man-made problem and man is going to have to solve it.
A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service said in an email that the agency “has permission to go ahead with a limited feeding trial” but details are not yet finalized. . An official announcement is expected later this week.
The emerging plan would involve feeding manatees at a Florida Power & Light plant in Cape Canaveral, along the Indian River Lagoon on the east coast, where manatees congregate during the cold winter months due to suckers. hot water from the plant. It would be an experiment involving lettuce, cabbage and other greens delivered in a controlled fashion, such as via a conveyor belt, Rose said.
People wouldn’t be allowed to just start throwing lettuce in a bay in Florida somewhere.
“In no way do we want people to feed the manatees. It’s illegal and the rest, ”Rose said.
Manatees have long struggled to survive with humans. Hundreds of slow-moving animals are struck by boats each year, leading to no-wake zones for manatees across Florida, with violations carrying significant fines. But the threat of famine led to a record 1,017 manatee deaths as of November 19, according to state figures.
As winter approaches, even in Florida, another bad year is expected.
This was caused mainly by runoff from farms, urban areas and sewage which promotes the growth of blue-green algae and other pests. It stifles the light needed by seagrass beds, eliminating the main food source for manatees. Climate change which worsens algal blooms is also a factor.
And it’s not just the manatees. Human health can be affected by algal blooms as well as the health of a wide variety of aquatic creatures, from crabs to dolphins. In addition to protecting the animals, there is an economic loss for the boat captains, tours, and others who flock to Florida for the chance to see these creatures.
“Literally saving manatees is part of saving the ecosystem. If we can deal with it, the manatees will thrive. If we don’t do it, they won’t, ”Rose said. “We are in the most critical position.
Manatees have been listed as endangered for years by the federal government, but by 2017 their numbers appeared to have rebounded enough – officials say there are between 7,000 and 8,000 animals in Florida – that their status was demoted to threatened. Several Florida politicians, including US Republican Vern Buchanan, have lobbied to restore endangered status, bringing them more attention and resources.
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