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Local women are working to save Florida's manatees

Restoring seagrass, the beloved sea cows' main food source, and cleaning Crystal River are their main goals.

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. — Manatees have been dying at an alarming rate in Florida. Last year, our state saw record-setting numbers, and wildlife officials said starvation and pollution are fueling the problem. 

To compare: Between Jan. 1 and July 15, about 631 manatee deaths have been confirmed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

In the same period of time, in 2021, officials recorded 864 manatee deaths. 10 Tampa Bay has learned the five-year average of manatee deaths in that time frame is 481. 

To fight the problem, Jessica Mailliez and Lisa Moore are cleaning Crystal River. Mailliez is a biologist for Sea and Shoreline. Moore is President of Save Crystal River.  

“I get chills just thinking about it,” Moore said. “I grew up here. I remember when the water was clear, and you could see everything. When we leave, we are leaving a legacy of beauty that was here when we got here.” 

There was a time when you could see the river floor and manatees. They came to feed on grass. And people showed up to watch, but people didn’t always mind themselves.  

“Don’t throw your anchors and drag through the grass because it tears it up,” Moore said. "You have to keep your eye on the ball. Don’t let this happen again. Some people don’t know. They’re going forward, they don’t see the damage they leave behind them. When we lost our seagrass, they lost their food supply.” 

“We lost fish populations, we lost tourism, we lost all of our crabs, our crabbing industry,” Mailliez said. “Luckily for us, with this Rockstar grass here, it grows incredibly fast.”   

The seagrass is also known as eelgrass. It has been the star of the river’s resurgence.   

“They grow out 7 and a half feet in every direction from each plant, and it spreads like crazy,” Mailliez said.   

Their goal is to restore 92 acres by July 2023. Just in time for the city’s 100th birthday. Mailliez and Moore said, since 2015, about $35 million has been invested into the project. Another $10 million is being invested this year.  

“A result of this project: we’ve opened over 800 spring vents throughout the river,” Mailliez said. 

To help Save Crystal River, there are a list of options online: https://savecrystalriver.com/

You can listen to Frank's full conversation with Moore and Mailliez on his podcast "A Frank Conversation."

RELATED: The Bishop Museum receives nearly $550K from FWC for manatee care program

RELATED: Officials: Starvation threat not over for Florida manatees

RELATED: Save the Manatee Club launches 'Fertilizer-Free for Manatees' campaign

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