BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - Florida’s beloved sea cows will have to find food on their own this winter.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is suspending its winter feeding program. The agency spent the last two years feeding manatees lettuce after more than a thousand starved.
Some experts are divided on whether it’s too soon to stop the supplemental feeding program.
"This is a step in the wrong direction," said Stel Bailey who’s the executive director for Fight for Zero, which is a non-profit fighting to restore water quality in the Indian River Lagoon.
For two years, Bailey watched manatees get a helping hand finding food. FWC supplemented their diet with lettuce because a record number of them starved to death during widespread algal blooms in the Indian River Lagoon.
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"It was like a graveyard – a manatee graveyard out here where they were just stacking them one on top of the other inside trailers," Bailey added.
The environmental health advocate thinks it’s too soon to stop the feeding, but not everyone agrees.
"This was an emergency situation where we did it for a short period of time," said Pat Rose who’s the executive director for Florida’s Save the Manatee Club.
He’s an aquatic biologist who helped FWC decide to stop feeding manatees.
"They should be able to make it over this winter," Rose said.
He says seagrass is coming back to parts of the Mosquito Lagoon and Banana River. He adds the manatees will be watched closely with "overflights, aerial surveys and having health assessments done."
FWC says they have a plan in place if they start seeing manatees that are starving. The agency is asking everyone to keep a close watch and call in sick and stranded sea cows at 888-404-FWCC (3922).