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John Romano: Florida's manatees are in trouble, so help our columnist lend a hand

Sad to say, but the heart sometimes wanders. Today's love becomes tomorrow's regret.

And so I find myself torn, pledging devotion to Lorelei but wondering if Rosie is really the one. And you know all bets are off if Ariel ever looks my way.

So I come to you today. I seek your counsel and assistance. Help me choose the perfect manatee to adopt at Homosassa Springs.

For as cavalier as I sound about this process, the intent is actually critical. The need for assistance and awareness about the plight of manatees is at an all-time high.

The truth is, manatees are dying at a faster pace than at any time in the 20-year recorded history of the Save the Manatee Club.

The combination of Red Tide in southwest Florida and an unidentified toxin in the waters of Brevard County have led to nearly 600 manatee deaths in the first four months of the year. That's already more deaths than almost every calendar year since 1994.

"Being extremely conservative, we will lose more than 10 percent of the population this year,'' said biologist Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club. "We're hopeful that things are starting to turn around, and we'll start seeing more births, but 10 percent is the minimum we'll lose. And it could be significantly worse.''

The Red Tide dissipated in early April, although deaths continued to mount because manatees were eating tainted sea grass. The problem in the Indian River Lagoon on the east coast was even more perplexing because there was no obvious explanation.

The calamity is those two areas have the highest manatee populations in the state.

This has put pressure on the Save the Manatee Club to solicit even more donations than usual because of the costs involved in rescue and recovery programs.

"That's been the wonderful part of the story,'' said Rose. "If you can identify and rescue manatees that have been exposed to Red Tide, they can make a very rapid recovery. We've had at least two dozen that have been saved, and a lot of those have been because a good Samaritan alerted us to a manatee in distress.''

Funds are also needed for lobbying efforts to protect the sanctity of aquatic ecosystems in the state. Last week, the Legislature nearly passed a bill that would have banned local municipalities from putting restrictions on the timing and the amount of fertilizer that can be used near lagoons.

"Man has put a lot of ecosystems near the tipping point,'' Rose said. "So it doesn't take much from nature to put them over the tipping point, and you end up with a situation like we had this year in Brevard County. It's a very fragile balance.''

If you're interested in the Adopt-A-Manatee program, the cost is $25 (or $35 if you would like a T-shirt) and donors receive adoption certificates with a color photo, a biography, a membership handbook and newsletters.

You can go to savethemanatee.org where they have a list of manatees around the state available for adoption.

Ariel was 2 weeks old when she was rescued with her mom, Betsy was named after a park ranger because of her curiosity, and Rosie, in captivity since 1968, tends to mother the younger manatees.

If you prefer to adopt vicariously, email me at romano@tampabay.com to let me know which of the Homosassa manatees I should adopt.

John Romano: Florida's manatees are in trouble, so help our columnist lend a hand 05/06/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 6, 2013 10:13pm]
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