The manatees are dying of hunger because of the pollution on the coasts of Florida, in the southeast of USA, an extreme situation that has led the authorities to take an unprecedented decision: to feed these marine mammals with vegetables.
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The plan will focus on the Indian River lagoon, on the east coast, where many manatees flock in winter to take advantage of the hot water discharged by a nearby power plant, federal and state authorities announced Wednesday at a press conference.
At least 1,017 of those animals died in Florida in 2021, up from 498 in 2020, a record.
The figure is especially high considering that there were about 5,700 individuals in the area before this crisis, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
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Lack of food is the main cause of these deaths. Manatees, which are typically about three meters long and weigh between 360 and 540 kilograms, can eat up to 10 percent of their weight on seagrass each day.
In the last decade, nutrient pollution of coastal waters from farms and urban centers has caused algae blooms that have suffocated seagrass beds by preventing sunlight from reaching them.
Without grass, many manatees, also known as sea cows, starved to death. “This unprecedented development requires unprecedented action,” said Thomas Eason, the FWC’s Deputy Executive Director, during the news conference.
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The manatees, which are fed salads, cabbages and other vegetables in captivity, will be fed in the Indian River Lagoon only if necessary, Eason explained.
The official recalled that it is forbidden to feed them, a practice that can be harmful to them by making them lose their fear of people and boats, whose impacts are another cause of their mortality.
The decision to feed the sea cows was celebrated by the local NGO Save the Manatee. “We believe it will be a significant step towards avoiding another major loss of manatees to starvation like last winter,” CEO Patrick Rose said in a statement.
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