PHOTO COURTESY SAVE THE MANATEE CLUB Mandy and her calf in February. While the calf is quite a butterball, Mandy was very underweight. They were rescued together and rehabilitated for months at SeaWorld Orlando. They were released into the St. Johns River July 14.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he will approve more than $30 million in the coming year’s budget to help manatees, after a record number of sea-cow deaths in 2021 in Florida waters. The Legislature has not formally sent the proposed $112.1 billion budget to DeSantis, who has line-item veto power.

But during an appearance at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, he expressed support for budget items aimed at helping manatees. “It will enhance and expand the network of acute-care facilities like the one right here at Jacksonville Zoo to treat injured and distressed manatees,” DeSantis said. “The funding will also support restoration efforts for manatee access to Florida’s warm-spring waters, habitat restoration in areas with high manatee populations, manatee rescue and recovery efforts and pilot projects like the supplemental feeding that FWC (the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) conducted this past winter.”

fThe highly unusual supplemental feeding effort involved providing lettuce to manatees, which have been starving because poor water quality and algae blooms have depleted seagrass beds that are prime foraging areas.

State and federal wildlife officials anticipate they might again have to provide lettuce to manatees gathering in East Coast waters next winter, as 527 manatee deaths had been reported through April 22.

The number of deaths was down from 694 at the same point in 2021, when a record 1,101 manatee deaths were reported. But it remains far higher than in other years. as it was up from 239 through April 22, 2020, and 219 through April 22, 2019.

Of the deaths this year, 23 involved collisions with watercraft. Watercraft were listed as the cause of 34 manatee deaths in 2021.

The proposed 2022-2023 budget, which will take effect July 1, would designate $20 million for the network of acute-care facilities that treat injured and distressed manatees, manatee-rescue efforts, habitat restoration and pilot projects that include supplemental-feeding trials. Other manatee-related budget items would provide money to various programs across the state.

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