CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. - One of the best places to see and learn about West Indian manatees is at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The springs' environment creates a serene backdrop for the park's three daily manatee programs.
During the programs, park rangers and volunteers give visitors interesting stories about the park's non-releasable captive manatees and what can be done to protect manatees in the wild.
The park is conducting an experimental program where manatees are randomly fed collected seagrass three times a day. The grass comes from a restoration program by Homosassa Sea & Shoreline, a seagrass restoration program that is bringing this critical manatee food source to areas that have seen a massive decline.
In Crystal River, Homosassa Sea & Shoreline has successfully restored many acres of freshwater seagrass. In the wintertime, the plants that have been restored back into the environment shed about 80% of their biomass.
That means a large portion of the grass will float up to the surface. Sea & Shoreline staff then collects the floating plants and brings them to the state park to feed the captive manatees, bringing the program's mission full circle.
Typically, manatees in captivity are fed lettuce, but the natural seagrass has a higher nutrient value and calorie count, making the program a win for the environment and the manatees.
Sea & Shoreline says this is a novel idea to take this grass that they have successfully grown and naturally releases into the environment to help the rehabilitated manatees, but their main goal is to help restore seagrass back to healthy levels so wild manatees can naturally feed and remain healthy.
To learn more or witness the manatee feedings at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, visit https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/ellie-schiller-homosassa-springs-wildlife-state-park.