As manatees continue to die in record numbers, Florida is poised to spend more than $30 million on efforts to rescue the iconic animals and restore the habitats where they live.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday announced his support for the funding, which was included in the budget the Legislature passed in March. The governor’s office called it a “record investment in manatee care and protection” and said it represents a roughly $17 million increase over the current budget.
The money, according to the state, includes $20 million to cover efforts such as improving manatee access to springs — where they find shelter — and experimental projects like the state’s attempt to feed starving manatees lettuce this winter in the Indian River Lagoon.
Another $5.3 million will boost the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s work on rescuing and recovering manatees and will help pay for 12 positions. Additional funding will pay for aerial surveys to track the manatee population and to support facilities that treat sick manatees.
At least 527 manatees have died this year as of April 22, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Last year, 1,101 manatees died, more than any year on record.
Those tallies track all causes of death across Florida. The epicenter of the die-off is the Indian River Lagoon, where scientists say algal blooms have crushed the ecosystem, leaving the manatees there without enough seagrass to eat in the winter.
People hurt manatees in other ways, too, including by accidentally crashing into them with boats.
Manatees are a threatened species, though some experts and politicians are now calling for the federal government to re-classify them as endangered.
Patrick Rose, executive director of the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club, credited House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, in particular for pushing the funding through. DeSantis’ approval is critical, too, he said, because the governor holds veto power and has yet to sign the 2022-23 budget.
The money, Rose said, “will help tremendously in dealing with the immediate predicaments.”