Pollution has killed the sea grass that manatees feed on, and they are starving to death in large numbers. Extraordinary intervention may not be enough to protect them.
Photographs by Eve Edelheit
- Published April 9, 2022
- Updated April 10, 2022
INDIAN RIVER LAGOON, Fla. — At first, the manatees stayed away from the romaine lettuce.
It was an extraordinary experiment in dire times: humans dumping pallets of leafy greens to feed Florida’s beloved manatees in the warm waters of the Indian River Lagoon, where decades of pollution have destroyed their delicate sea grass diet.
Eventually, a pair of bold manatees approached. With their prehensile lips — they are distantly related to elephants — they grabbed the lettuce and nibbled. More followed. On the coldest days, hundreds came, and over the three-month feeding period, the hungry mammals ate every scrap of the 202,000 pounds of lettuce hurled from above.