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For Florida's ailing manatees, state budget includes $27 million

Manatees are large marine mammals native to Florida that spend their time grazing on sea grass in shallow coastal areas. Since January, recorded manatee deaths have been nearly triple that of the same period for each of the past five years.
Manatees are large marine mammals native to Florida that spend their time grazing on sea grass in shallow coastal areas. Since January, recorded manatee deaths have been nearly triple that of the same period for each of the past five years.

Florida lawmakers included $27 million for manatees in the state budget this session. 

Advocates say the funding is historic but not enough to solve the long-term problems that have led to an unprecedented die-off. 

Most of the money will go toward rescue and rehabilitation programs at SeaWorld and other aquariums and zoos that are taking in ailing manatees. 

Pat Rose of the Save the Manatee Club says the money also will fund research, including a dozen new positions at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

“In the bigger picture, in the long-term it won’t be enough. But it’s a really important start on that, and we believe the Legislature was being very responsive to the immediate concerns.” 

Rose says more is needed to address the water quality problems and seagrass losses that have left the animals starving in the Indian River Lagoon. 

The budget also includes $100 million for Florida Forever, the state’s land-buying program, and $300 million for conservation that especially targets working ranch lands like those in central Florida. 

Aliki Moncrief of Florida Conservation Voters says the money represents a small uptick in funding from recent years, but the $300 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program is federal funding. 

“We’re not putting state skin in the game, as they say. That is federal money. So we can thank the Biden and Harris administration and the current Congress for that additional support.”  

Florida voters in 2014 overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment aimed at boosting land conservation, after funding had fallen to near-zero levels. 

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