Florida Wildlife Officials Feeding the Starving Manatees 3,000 Pounds of Lettuce a Day

But there’s still a long way to go.

Manatee Feeding FWC
Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

After a bit of a rocky start, the unprecedented program to feed Florida's starving manatees is finally beginning to show promise.

The starvation deaths of more than 1,000 manatees in 2021 led state and federal environmental officials to launch the controversial test-feeding operation at a Florida Power & Light plant along the Indian River Lagoon in Cape Canaveral back in December.

On Wednesday, officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) shared with CNN that an average of 350 manatees a day are now coming to chow down on romaine and butter leaf lettuce at a temporary field response station. The amount of vegetation being distributed has also been increased to roughly 3,000 pounds a day and 20,000 pounds a week.

"At this point in time, we have been successful. Manatees are eating the romaine," Ron Mezich of the FWC said in the weekly video conference, per CNN. "We are exposing a large amount of animals to this food source and we are making a difference."

The number of manatees per day reportedly ranges from 25 to as many as 800, depending on the water temperature. But there's still cause for concern. FWC spokesperson Tom Reinert said they have also seen an uptick in mortalities likely due to unseasonably cold weather. Officials plan to continue the feeding program through March.

WATCH: State and Federal Forces Team Up After Florida Hits More Than 1,000 Manatee Deaths in Under a Year

Historically, the Indian River Lagoon has provided essential habitat to manatees year-round, including the hundreds who relocate from colder areas during the winter months. Decades of algal blooms caused by pollution, however, have resulted in catastrophic seagrass loss in the once verdant lagoons.

If you see a dead, sick, or injured manatee, you are asked to contact the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922 or by dialing #FWC on a cellphone. For more information as well as opportunities to help, visit MyFWC.com/Manatee.

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