The sadness and anger arising from the death of a baby manatee nicknamed Emoji, who was brought to Lowry Park Zoo with a stomach full of trash and plastic bags, has prompted manatee fans to lash out at the human cause and ask: What can we do?
There are a number of wildlife organizations, including the zoo itself, that welcome volunteers and donations in their efforts to save the threatened sea cows and clean up trash-choked waterways.
But that doesn't bring back Emoji.
The orphan manatee was brought to the zoo by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in late October when he was about 2 weeks old and weighed just 66 pounds. Along with cold stress and other health issues, veterinarians found Emoji had plastic bags in his stomach. Many orphaned calves also ingest fishing line, fishing hooks and other pollutants while searching for food.
"Now more than ever, we must hold ourselves accountable," said Dr. Ray Ball, senior veterinarian for Lowry Park Zoo, "whether that's keeping trash and plastics out of our waterways or being more mindful of potential consequences of propeller strikes on wildlife while boating."
Raymond Fagnon, 47, a computer engineer from St. Petersburg, said the story of Emoji shook him, but it wasn't the first time.
"It saddens me every time I hear an animal died due to poor human behavior," he said.
He loves to cruise around the waterways in St. Petersburg on his WaveRunner and got so fed up with the trash two years ago he rigged up a sturdy 10-gallon bucket that he attached to his personal watercraft so he can more easily pick up floating items. In addition, he uses a net to scoop up cigarette butts and other floating trash that marine animals could end up ingesting.
Many days, his bucket is full after less than an hour of cruising around the Vinoy basin, he said. He got so disgusted he began logging his finds at themariner.org, a Facebook page he set up to show how widespread the littering is and to inspire other boaters to pick up trash.
"Why do we trash our beautiful city? It's gross," Fagnon said. "Please spread the word. The ocean is not your trash can."
Fagnon faulted the city of St. Petersburg for using trash cans along the waterfront that don't have lids because he sometimes sees plastic bags and trash blowing out of the overflowing cans into the water.
Mike Jefferis, the city's parks and recreation director, said it's "horrifying" to think trash from his parks ends up in waterways. But he said he's had a tough time finding trash cans that people will actually use.
He's currently testing domed trash cans at Albert Whitted Park and found "people are too lazy to push it in the hole and just drop it by the side."
"If it were as easy just to slap lids on trash cans we'd do that tomorrow," Jefferis said. "We are testing to figure out what would work best. But it's crazy."
Here are some ways to help make the world a better place for manatees:
• Lowry Park Zoo's Manatee Hospital takes donations and accepts volunteers who assist the only nonprofit, acute care facility of its kind specifically dedicated to critical care for injured wild manatees. You can find ways to donate or volunteer at lowryparkzoo.org/involvement/donate or call (813) 935-8552.
• "Give a Day For the Bay" is a volunteer program sponsored by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Half-day workdays are held Saturdays several times a year at various parks and preserves throughout the Tampa Bay area. They remove invasive plants and help restore habitats. There's a volunteer button at tbep.org, or call (727) 893-2765.
• Tampa Bay Watch performs environmental projects throughout the year, using volunteers for coastal cleanups and restoration. Go to tampabaywatch.org or call (727) 867-8166, ext. 233.
Some rules to live by from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program:
• Watch for manatees, especially in winter. Wear polarized glasses to reduce surface glare and allow better through-water visibility. When a manatee surfaces to breathe, only the tip of its snout is visible.
• Obey posted speed and manatee caution signs. Avoid or travel very slowly across shallow grass beds, where manatees feed and rest.
• Stow trash and properly discard fishing line. Don't release balloons over the water.
• Report violations, manatee injuries or deaths to the wildlife commission's 24-hour hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). Cellular customers can contact *FWC or #FWC.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.