Last year Florida set a heart-wrenching record with 1,101 manatee deaths, and now a group of Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that could put these gentle giants in even greater peril.
Florida’s manatees feed primarily on underwater grasses, but our native seagrass is quickly disappearing due to pollution and overdevelopment. At a time when lawmakers should be doing everything in their power to protect our endangered manatee population from further decline, some legislators are doing just the opposite at the behest of powerful developers.
Most of the 1,101 manatee deaths last year were due to starvation. But rather than working to protect critical seagrass habitat, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral) along with Reps. Tyler Sirois (R-Merritt Island) and Toby Overdorf (R- Stuart) have filed legislation to make it easier, not harder, to destroy seagrass.
This disaster-in-the-making would allow private industry to rip up the manatees’ key food source, seagrass, then write a check to have it planted somewhere else. But creating artificial seagrass habitat has proven extremely difficult. Even under the most favorable circumstances, it takes years or decades for newly planted seagrass to develop into a suitable habitat.
The situation is already so dire that wildlife officials, as part of a desperate experimental program, have resorted to feeding lettuce to manatees at risk of starvation. The notion that developers should now be given freedom to destroy the rapidly shrinking amount of natural seagrass we have is reckless and unconscionable.
Thank you for speaking out against this dangerous bill that poses a huge risk to Florida’s beloved manatees.