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Projects aim to restore Indian River Lagoon seagrass as manatees starve

Rescued manatee in a tub
Amy Green
Among the manatees rescued this year from Florida waters were 13 orphaned calves. At least two ended up at a SeaWorld rehabilitation center, where they faced a long recovery.

Ongoing water quality problems have wiped out more than half of the seagrass in the northern Indian River Lagoon.

An unprecedented die-off of manatees this year in Florida is renewing focus on the animal’s habitat.

In the Indian River Lagoon several projects are underway to restore a widespread loss of seagrass, the manatee’s favorite food.

Ongoing water quality problems have wiped out more than half of the seagrass in the northern Indian River Lagoon. In the Banana River some 96% of the seagrass is gone.

The City of Satellite Beach replanted an acre of seagrass. Nick Salzone works for the city. He says the project also calls for clams and oysters, natural water filters.

“We know that the salinity, the temperature, the depth of the bottom and the visibility were all at one time the right conditions for seagrasses. So therefore they should be again.”

Brian Lapointe of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute says the project is a good start but will struggle until the lagoon’s nutrient pollution is addressed, a much bigger job.

“We’re starting to see this vision that we really need to focus our efforts on restoring the water quality. And only then are we going to be able to successfully restore seagrasses.”

Seagrass also has been replanted north of the Merritt Island Airport, and plans call for another project along the Titusville Causeway.

Laurilee Thompson, a local businesswoman and conservationist, says the project north of the airport began five years ago.

“There are patches of grass that are still there in the area, and that is compared to other areas of the system that are a complete desert now. There is no grass at all, zero, none, zilch.”

Some 974 manatees have died this year in Florida. More than half of the deaths have been in the Indian River Lagoon. The animal was downlisted in 2017 from endangered to threatened.

Amy Green