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Florida Manatees at Risk of Starvation Eat Lettuce in Pilot Program

Manatees at risk of starvation, because native seagrass is dying due to water pollution, have for the first time started eating lettuce under an experimental feeding program, Florida wildlife officials said Friday. The test facility on the east coast’s Indian River Lagoon had its first takers of romaine lettuce Thursday, leading more to join in, said Ron Mezich, chief of the effort’s provisioning branch at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The program adds cabbage and the second type of lettuce to entice the Manatees, also known as sea cows. All of these are common foods given to at rehabilitation facilities. The unprecedented feeding program is a state and federal response to last year’s record number of 1,101 documented manatee deaths. Many are starving to death because pollution from agricultural, urban, and other sources has triggered algae blooms that have decimated seagrass beds on which Manatees depend during cold winter months.

Several hundred Manatees were seen Friday near the feeding site at a Florida Power & Light plant that discharges warm water the animals favor when water temperatures cool. Several hundred were spotted from the air in nearby areas, said Tom Reinert, south regional director for the FWC. Officials said there are no immediate plans to expand the program beyond Brevard County. It remains illegal for people to feed wild Manatees on their own.

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