Florida to increase manatee protection funding by $17 million as deaths mount

More than 520 Florida manatees have died so this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 520 Florida manatees have died so this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

This follows last year’s record-breaking number of manatee deaths which was more than 1,000. The largest number of deaths was in Brevard County and due to a lack of seagrass.

Gov. DeSantis was in Jacksonville on Monday morning to announce the state is increasing its funding to help save the beloved sea cows.

MORE: Grim milestone: More than 500 Florida manatee deaths recorded so far in 2022

DeSantis said this year’s state budget, which he will sign in the coming weeks, will include $30 million to help protect manatees, which is $17 million more than last year.

“I’m proud of the progress that we’ve made over the last four years and I’m glad that we are able to have really significant record amount of resources to be able to help something that’s so important to our state,” said DeSantis, who spoke in front of the Manatee Critical Care Center at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

DeSantis said the money will go towards improving and expanding the network of care facilities like the one at Jacksonville Zoo throughout the state to treat injured and distressed manatees.

Jacksonville Zoo has the first-ever manatee critical care center in northeast Florida where it can care for up to six manatees at a time.

The zoo’s curator of mammals talked about the importance of critical care centers.

Craig Miller - curator of mammals for the zoo

“We received our first two patients in August of 2017 and just 2 weeks ago released our 30 th Manatee from the center,” said curator Craig Miller.

The curator talked about one of the manatees currently in its care as an example of how the manatees can heal and return to the wild.

“That’s Mr. Inigo Montoya,” Miller said pointing to a manatee swimming in an enclosure behind him. “He was rescued from the Indian River lagoon, starving and unable to move. We worked with him around the clock, for three weeks, 24/7 and now we’re talking about releasing him.”

The governor said there are a total of 71 manatees in rehabilitation facilities across the state.

The funding will also support restoration efforts for manatee access to Florida’s warm spring waters, habitat restoration in areas with high manatee populations, manatee rescue and recovery efforts and pilot projects like the supplemental feeding that FWC conducted this past winter, DeSantis said.

FWC and its partners undertook the first-ever experimental feeding trial and strategically fed manatees lettuce to help curb manatee mortality. Crews used more than 200,000 pounds of produce, which fed more than 800 manatees and, DeSantis said, thanks to the efforts there have been 167 fewer manatee deaths when compared to this time last year.

But environmental experts say it will take more than lettuce to solve the problem.

“We’ve had decades of too much nutrient pollution coming from human waste that’s leaking from the groundwater from our septic tanks,” Patrick Rose, Aquatic Biologist and Executive Director for Save the Manatees, told News4JAX last month.

As a community, there are ways to help. When it comes to seagrass if you live on the water pay attention to the types of fertilizer you use. Fertilizing right before it rains can cause runoff into the water.

When it comes to boating, wearing polarized sunglasses can help spot manatees and pay attention to the slow-speed zones. And finally, report a sick and injured manatee right away to the FWC.

It’s important to remember to report a manatee you think may be injured or sick to the FWC by calling the toll-free number 1-888-404-3922.

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.