TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As manatees continue to die in Florida due to lack of food once again this winter, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is working to restore seagrass, as well as manatee habitats.
Last fiscal year, the Florida legislature provided an additional $8 million to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to restore manatees’ access to springs and habitat restoration.
The FWC held an update on Wednesday regarding the unusual mortality event (UME) of the animal on the east coast and were questioned about what was being done to restore seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon, the hardest hit portion of the state.
Joint Unified Command Provisioning Brand Chief Ron Mezich, of the FWC’s coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said they have identified seven projects for that $8 million, that include increasing accessing to two warm water springs – Blue Spring and another in the southwest coast.
Mezich said the rest of the projects are related to seagrass recovery, including some direct seagrass planting.
“A hurdle that everyone has to get over in the restoration in the lagoon’s seagrass resources is that typically, when we restore seagrasses, we need donor beds from the area to plant,” he said. “Because the resources for seagrass in the lagoon are so low right now, there are no donor beds.
Seagrass is instead being grown at facilities in “upland areas,” according to Mezich.
“Some of that money is going to expand those facilities so we will have enough seagrass when conditions are right to plant in large scales,” he said.
The FWC is also working on clam and oyster restoration projects in the lagoon, as both are significant filter feeders in the lagoon, important to improve water quality.
Mezich added that the FWC is also working with the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida on eelgrass projects, a freshwater species of manatee vegetation that grows in a number of tributaries to the Indian River Lagoon that are accessible to manatees.
More updates are now expected weekly on the ongoing UME. All dead or distressed manatees should be reported to the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline 888-404-FWCC.