JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A sizable chunk of the Florida state budget will go towards programs that work to save manatees, Governor Ron DeSantis announced at a press conference at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens Monday.
DeSantis says more than $30 million will go to expanding the state's network of acute care facilities for injured manatees like the Manatee Critical Care Center at the Jacksonville Zoo, to supporting restoration and manatees' access to waters and habitats and to supporting pilot projects.
One of those pilot projects is a program run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that is feeding thousands of pounds of romaine lettuce near the Cape Canaveral power plant.
DeSantis listed several projects taking place in this fiscal year. The Bonefish Cove environmental enhancement project in Lake Worth Lagoon aims to restore habitat including sea grass. In Blue Spring they're working to protect access to, stabilize and restore banks of the spring run. In the Indian River Lagoon, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is cultivating seagrass to kickstart habitat restoration and expand existing seagrass nurseries.
There are still eight months left in the year and FWC data shows we are only 167 dead manatees away from the total number that died last year.
Manatees are starving because there isn't enough seagrass, their main food source. There isn't enough seagrass because of pollution from humans, including pollution from fertilizers and septic tanks, which feed toxic algae that blocks sunlight and keeps the seagrass from growing.
First Coast News asked DeSantis if he will do anything to try to stop that pollution.
"We did the Clean Waterways Act, which is the first thing that had been done in this state in a long time," DeSantis responded. "And then a lot of the infrastructure that we're putting in, we've made huge strides and we need to do that, but we've got more work to do."
Treating wastewater to prevent algae-feeders from getting into the water is part of what the Clean Waterways Act does.
The Jacksonville Zoo is known for its Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation program, which takes in injured manatees and releases them. Since 2017, the program has released 30 manatees.
The zoo is in its design phase to expand their manatee program and is getting ready to start raising money for it. Curator of Mammals Craig Miller explains how this will help.
"We rely on funding from partners, donors and members," Miller said. "We know we can't save them all for sure, but this manatee behind me, one of the two behind me, you saw them swimming around, is a great example of what we can do."