Manatees have had their deadliest year on record. We sit down with Patrick Rose, aquatic biologist and Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club, to find out what is killing the manatees and how we can all help them recover before it's too late.
Manatees are Florida’s state marine mammal. They’re also one of the most peaceful creatures on earth and they are facing a dire situation right now. On this episode, we sit down with Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. We’ll hear about what is killing these gentle giants, how this organization is fighting to protect them, and many simple ways everyone can help support their recovery.
For ways to help manatees and more information, please visit savethemanatee.org.
For free boater materials we discussed: savethemanatee.org/how-to-help/free-materials
Resources for boaters: savethemanatee.org/how-to-help/resources-for-boaters
To report an injured or distressed manatee, please call 1-888-404-FWCC.
Veronica Alfaro Intro:
Manatees are Florida’sstate mammal. They're also one of the most peaceful creatures on earth and they're facing dire struggles right now. On this episode, we sit down with Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. We will hear about what is killing these gentle giants, how this organization is fighting to protect them, and the many simple ways everyone can help support their recovery.
Patrick Rose preview clip:
And literally by protecting manatees and those aquatic ecosystems, we are protecting our own future investments in Florida as human beings, the water we drink the, you know, the air we breathe, all those things are interconnected. And by doing it for the manatees First, we're going to do it for ourselves.
Veronica Alfaro 0:53
Welcome Patrick Rose, aquatic biologist and Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. Thanks for being with us today.
Patrick Rose 0:59
Great to be here.
Veronica Alfaro 1:00
So for those of us who live in Florida, we're pretty familiar with manatees. You know, they're the big, cutesea cows that we see when we're out kayaking, and they're on people's mailboxes. But I think that when it comes to actual manatee knowledge, even those of us that live here and see them on a regular basis, we don't know as much as we think we do. Can you talk a little bit about them?
Patrick Rose 1:22
Well, manatees are a marine mammal. They're big, they can average about 10 feet long and 1200 pounds, but they can weigh up to 3000 pounds. They're very long lived, if they were allowed to live their life out entirely. They could live 65 to 70 years. The average age, though, upon death is more like 13 years. So there's a lot of problems manatees are facing. But they have a wonderful number of attributes.They’re vegetarian, they don't have to hunt their food down. However, there are problems which we'll talk about later, in terms of their food supply in Florida right now, for the first time, really in their history, we're seeing manatees dying of starvation. But again, they're able to live long lives, if left alone, they evolve with the seagrass communities.They would have one calf about every two to five years. So they're pretty slow breeding, but the calf will stay with the mother for a year up to two years. And she teaches them a lot during that time. They're probably the most docile animal that I know of. And that's what attracted me to them. They're just not capable of being aggressive. And therefore in the world that we live in, man is really their principal enemy. In that sense, it's also their principal benefactor.
Veronica Alfaro 2:32
Are there different kinds of manatees? Or are they just kind of like all the same?
Patrick Rose 2:36
Well, there are three different species of manatees. There's the West Indian manatee, which the Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. There's a West African manatee, which the name would connote, it's off the west coast of Africa, and then the Amazonian manatee, which is in South America, and it's a freshwater species. So it's different in that sense, but actually more recently there's been a little bit of hybridization between the West Indian and the Amazonian manatee, where their ranges overlap just a little bit in some of the river deltas.
Veronica Alfaro 3:07
So we know that manatees are docile, they're adorable. They live in other parts of the world, other than Florida. And we also know because of what you just mentioned, that they're dying off. So it's becoming a big concern. Besides trying to save the manatees, what is the mission of the Save the Manatee Club?
Patrick Rose 3:25
Well, a huge part of what we do besides informing people about manatees, why it's important to protect them, is that we work really hard to save their aquatic ecosystems. So they're a part of an ecosystem that if they do well, then all of those other species, such as the fisheries, and the sea turtles, and the rays and other many other species do well as well. And then if it's not going well, they suffer. So by protecting manatees and their aquatic habitat, and we literally protect those aquatic ecosystems. So education, we like to work with school classes and school children, we have an adopt-a-manatee program that helps with that, too. We have a special rate for teachers because we want to provide them an educator's guide and other materials. And in doing that, we don't just teach them about manatees, we teach them about the aquatic ecosystems, the hydrologic cycle, all those ways that the world, if you will, and how man interacts in that world, hopefully to make it a sustainable habitat, can make a difference. Manatees’, but many other things, including humans’, quality of life will also step up from a science standpoint, and we do research and we are engaged with management functions.We work to protect by having new laws adopted to protect manatees; we see that they're enforced. We have a lot of people that work with us that will add their voice to the message. We've been essentially the voice for manatee since 1981, 40 years ago, when we were established by our Governor Bob Graham coming together with Jimmy Buffett and they formed the Savethe Manatee Committee that sort of gave us our start and our primary mission still includes that education. It's such an important part of that in the public awareness, but we also work actively in helping to rescue and rehabilitate and then return manatees to the wild when they've been injured or they're sick. And so it's a very broad spread mission. But we want to do this not only for today, but for future generations.
Veronica Alfaro 5:16
Yeah, it seems as if the manatees, they're kind of the beginning of all of it. These great docile creatures, we don't realize just how important they are to our ecosystem. Is this one of the reasons why you decided that you wanted to become an aquatic biologist?
Patrick Rose 5:33
Yes, that's certainly a part of it. I have been, since I can remember, just drawn to water. And it's something where even as a child, I would constantly be getting in trouble because I'd be playing in a creek or run off and go fishing in a lake or what have you. And in grade school, I learned about manatees from the weekly reader. So just you know, hearing about that I grew up in the Midwest, but it really hit me. I just thought they call them sea cows at that point in time. And I thought, wow, that's kind of weird, a cow that's underwater. And grazes. That's different. I'd like to know more about that. And so subsequently, I became a skin diver scuba diver, I built my own underwater camera housings both for still photography and video. And I will say that the very first close up underwater encounter I had with a manatee was in very murky water. So the first thing I literally saw of the manatee was the scar on it, because they had already, even back then in the 60s, they were being hit by boats and scarred. And so that left an impression with me. And it really helped cement my life's desire to work to protect them from these kinds of, you know, sort of cruel injuries. And I wouldn't really want to add the boaters don't do this on purpose. There's no malice in that process. But the manatees and boating occur in the same areas. Manatees are vegetarian, so they're having to eat the underwater growing submerged aquatic vegetation. That's also the areas where the boats like the operate, it’s good fishing areas. So that that made a real impact on me as a young young person. And growing up, I've been able to carry that forward, actually turned 70 this January, and I was hoping to kind of look at maybe looking towards retirement, but there's a lot of issues that still need to be overcome and worked with. So I've re-upped if you will, I’ve re-engaged now and I don't know when the retirement might take place. But I'm enjoying the good fight.
Veronica Alfaro 7:23
Well, on behalf of manatees everywhere. I'd like to thank you for not retiring and a little bit later on in the program. I also want to talk about boater responsibility. And, you know folks' etiquette out in manatee habitats where they live. But from what I understand one of the biggest problems that we're facing right now is an increase in manatee deaths. And I wanted to talk on that first because I think you mentioned that it does have to do with their actual habitats dying off, correct. That's right.
Patrick Rose 7:53
So being vegetarians, they both will consume, you know, floating vegetation, but the majority of their habitat is submerged aquatic vegetation, whether it's freshwater or sea grasses and those sea grasses within what we call the Indian River Lagoon, it's about 152 mile stretch to the on the east coast of Florida, the amount of seagrass losses there has been very significant over the last decade and it's accelerated and the root cause of it is because we've had too much nutrients coming into those systems, whether it comes from human wastewater that's through the failed septic systems or improperly treated sewage. And then fertilizers that run off with that excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the systems is promoting algal blooms, those algal blooms are just there are literally called Harmful Algal Blooms because they will shade out the light going to the sea grasses and cause them to die. And then even those nutrients that were bound up in the seagrass become available and one algal bloom can happen after another until that system had 77,000 acres back in 2010. And now today it’s lost about 95 to 96% of that biomass of the seagrass. So we've got a couple of thousand manatees that use that area regularly. And especially in the wintertime, they have to stay warm at a power plant in that area and there's not nearly enough to feed them. So we lost hundreds of manatees due to starvation, we could be facing that same problem again this coming winter. So we're really racing hard and doing a lot of different things to try to avoid that, have the necessary safeguards in place to rescue and rehabilitate manatees. But we also have to fix it in the long term. We have to get those excess nutrients out of the system. We've got to retool the whole process and make sure that we don't keep polluting those ecosystems going forward.
Veronica Alfaro 9:41
Are you finding that folks in say, like Indian River Lagoon, are you finding that they too care about saving that or is it kind of an uphill battle for you guys?
Patrick Rose 9:51
I think right now, it has gotten so bad that a lot of people are really attuned to the problem. They're starting to see it. We've been doing our normal amount of work plus much more. We've even adopted a process of doing billboards in the local communities as well as our online, social media and so forth and reaching out through our members, engaging the legislature, engaging Congress, because right now, the US is going through funding for infrastructure. There's no more basic infrastructure as far as I'm concerned than what you do with your human waste. And the primary problem, and the source of this problem, comes primarily from that, in addition, fertilizers, so we're even reaching right into people's backyards and asking them, “Do you know that when you fertilize your green lawn in your backyard that makes its way into the waterways? And that can add to this problem?”And they are responding. And so we're seeing a lot of lot happening now. But we had too many years of heading to that tipping point, and then reaching it and crashing down the other side. But to answer your question, yes, people are aware, they're sympathetic, and they're engaging, but we have a long ways to go.
Veronica Alfaro 10:56
Well, at least that's promising news that they are willing to help out.As a person who doesn't live that close to a coastline...To me, it I don't really think too hard about, you know, my neighbors fertilizing their lawn, that kind of thing. For folks who don't live near the coast, are we contributing to these manatee deaths as well?
Patrick Rose 11:19
Well, if you live in a riverine system, like the St. Johns River, which can start you know, all the way in around Orlando, and ends up discharging up in Jacksonville, it's a river that flows north in Florida, any of those tributaries that feed that you could be contributing to it. And they're also losses of submerged aquatic vegetation in the St. Johns River as well. If you're in an isolated Lake, you still could be contributing through the groundwater because it makes its way into the Florida aquifer eventually. And so that makes a difference too. The springs in Florida are critically important for the future survival of manatees because they're natural, warm water sources for manatees in the wintertime to stay warm and not die from cold stress. But they're also of course, the humans drinking water supply. It's also where most of the agriculture gets its water from. So everyone who lives in Florida or visits can make a difference, though, because they can let their local officials know that they do care about manatees and water quality, but they also care about all of Florida and this natural spring systems, and they can help to protect them. And that's essential to engage.
Veronica Alfaro 12:23
I appreciate you sharing that information. Because again, as someone who doesn't, I don't live on a river, I don't live near a coastline. But I personally am aware of the chemicals that my household is putting out there. And we make sure to keep that at a very minimum. But I think for a lot of people who live far away from the water, it's not something that's top of mind. So like you said, if everyone kind of does their part, we can all work together to help save these lives and help save these habitats as well. Let's talk a little bit about numbers before we go into how we can improve the situation. Because I did come across a very shocking number.
Patrick Rose 13:02
We're at about 950 plus manatees that have died this year overall. So hundreds and hundreds of those are due to starvation and the problem that we've been discussing, but manatees are, one of their most serious long term threats has been watercraft injuries. A recent study showed that 96% of all manatees that were examined upon death bore scars from watercraft encounters, we know that the vast majority of manatees that are alive today have scars and they've been within an inch of losing their life due to those impacts. So there's an awful lot more we still need to do to deal with the watercraft injuries alone. But that's just one source. Then you add the starvation. On top of that we have red tide that's increasing in its severity and prevalence in Florida. On the west coast of Florida, completely across the state, we've had a significant amount of manatees die from red tide exposure, it creates a brevetoxin. It's a phytoplankton, not dissimilar to the types of algae problems, but a completely different species and a process. But it'll kill fish by the hundreds of thousandsas well. And it doesn't start because of our human pollution but it actually is made worse and persists longer.
Veronica Alfaro 14:14
Right, it's like scratching at a scab. It's, you know, you may not have begun that injury, but you're certainly contributing to it exacerbating.
Patrick Rose 14:22
And if you look back, I might just add, that on the east coast alone where this issue with the seagrass loss is so severe, it's amounted to about 20% loss of the east coast population of manatees. And so that's in less than a year. That's very significant. And if we can't get that turned around before next year, it's going to be that much worse.
Veronica Alfaro 14:41
Now, a bill was introduced last month to upgrade the manatees back to endangered status.
Patrick Rose 14:48
That’s correct. And needs a little bit of history because in 2017, the US Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted manatees from endangered.They were listed as an endangered species going all the way back to the Red Book in the late 60s, and certainly with the introduction of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, they were an endangered species. There's some original critical habitat designated for them, but it needs to be updated substantially. But then under pressure from a group called the Pacific Legal Foundation, they were sued to downlist manatees in effect, and we believe they relented to that even though tens of thousands of people objected, the scientific peer reviewers recommended they not downlist them. But they went ahead and did that in 2017. We believe that was not biologically justified; we don't believe it met the standards of the Endangered Species Act in doing so. So I lay that as a predicate to the legislation you're talking about. Normally, we would not be supportive of Congress coming in and sort of not following the system that's established for under the Endangered Species Act. But in this case, we support it because it's righting a wrong that was done in 2017, when we believe that manatees were downlisted unjustifiably.
Veronica Alfaro 16:00
And I know that we saw a major increase in manatee deaths this year. But the reality is, like you're saying, if we don't do something, to help the ecosystem improve itself, these numbers are going to keep going up. And the last thing that we want to see is fighting to get manatees back on the endangered species list when they're almost extinct. I actually remember when they were downgraded to threatened. And as being just a regular person who didn't know a lot about manatees, I remember a lot of people just kind of high fiving each other and being excited thinking, this is cool. That means that there's an overabundance of manatees, and we can rest a little bit easy now. And like you were saying, I feel like we were kind of misled as the public, which is why I'm very excited to be talking with you today. Because I think it's important that we understand exactly what's happening with manatees and that they are in this more dire situation.
Patrick Rose 16:57
Well, they absolutely are. And I don't want to understate how much progress had been made from the 1970s up until let's just even call it 2010. There was a very substantial recovery in the population, things were doing much better. We did a lot of work to do that. My background is a little diverse from where I am today. But I was the first federal U.S. coordinator for the manatee programs. I started the state of Florida's programs and built them.We gained tremendous ground for the manatees, we were well on our way to recovery. And in 2010, I was saying we should have discussions about looking at reclassifying manatees from endangered to threatened back then. But starting literally in 2011, this was the first major decline in seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon, we started seeing more problems in other places. We saw the increases in watercraft mortality, red tide proliferating. So by the time you got around to 2017, we had years and years and years of problems that were taking us the wrong direction. There should have been a pause at that point in time. And we believe that even though they promised they wouldn't do less for manatees when they downlisted them to a threatened level, they did.In fact, the staffing and the funding for the programs had been reduced. So we started down this more of the spiral that led to this catastrophe we have right now. But we don't want to take a minute away from those agencies’ time to commit to fix what's broken. So we didn't look at suing them to change the status back to endangered even though it shouldn't have been downlisted. But if Congress did that, then it could be essentially by legislative fiat. And they can stay engaged on recovery actions. What I'll do is point out one important one that we think has to happen. The Endangered Species Act has provisions under what's called Section 7. And they're able to get in consultation with other federal agencies, in this case with EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, so they could actually, under the Endangered Species Act, increase the water quality standards within the Indian River Lagoon, this critical habitat for manatees, and insist on higher water quality standards and put into place more severe penalties for violating that. And it would actually end up being a problem under the Endangered Species Act, giving it more authority even beyond what the EPA has today. And we think that should happen. We fortunately, the Fish and Wildlife Service is responding. They've asked to reinitiate consultation and we think something more dramatic like that has to happen. But in the meantime, we've got to make sure we're rescuing and taking care of those animals that are sick or starving, and we're working to replant habitat where it could be successfully done but in most of that area, the water quality has to be improved first.
Veronica Alfaro 19:40
So what is the process for regrowing seagrass?
Patrick Rose 19:44
If the water quality itself would allow it, meaning there's enough clarity and there's not too much motion of the water like wave action and those kinds of things, you can literally replant some species of seagrass and begin to establish it that way, but the larger mass of seagrass recovery is going to come by improving the water quality and then allowing sort of nature if you will, to take its course but you can't wait too long, you can't wait until some of the vegetative regrowth can happen on its own. So even if you have a very sparse amount of seagrass left, if you do have that, and the conditions have improved, that can then be the seed base, if you will, sometimes literally as a seed, but sometimes just as the sort of vegetative sprouts, think about it like a garden, if you will. And then there are certain species that if even when it gets chopped up, every one of those fragments could actually grow a new plant. And then there are seeds you can bring in from some intermediate species of seagrasses that can be what holds the soil in place, the hydrosoil in place, until another species then can move in after that in succession. And there's even a particular macro algae that can be part of the problem but it's also a precursor to allowing those conditions to be improved for seagrass that that's a species called caulerpa. Some of that is actually doing better in the banana river system, and so forth. And we're hopeful that that's going to set the stage for some of the seagrasses to return. This is more in a sort of transition. But there are literally projects where you can plant an acre here, or an acre there. And those become a resource from which to grow out further and that will reseed other areas beyond that.It's not practical to replant, you know, thousands of acres. Just the cost of it alone, let alone the circumstances would preclude that. But you don't have to do that if you've improved the water quality first.
Veronica Alfaro 21:37
Is there something that us regular people can do to also help sort of move that progress along?
Patrick Rose 21:44
Oh, absolutely. So not only could you work with your local governments and insisting that they help clean up the wastewater in their local communities, whether it's getting rid of septic tanks and getting it onto advanced wastewater treatment, or controlling the amount of fertilizers that are making their way through the groundwater, the stormwater protections.But right now both the state of Florida's legislature is meeting; there's a meeting today,in fact, where manatee protection provisions are going before the Agriculture Committee to look at funding that can help improve the situation for manatees.In Congress right now with infrastructure bills it's going through and support for the Fish and Wildlife Service and, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.So they can engage their representatives, let them know manatees and aquatic ecosystem protections are a high priority, and they want them to support legislation and funding that will help us get out of the mess that we're in, if you will.
Veronica Alfaro 22:38
Can you talk about how the issues facing manatees really have bigger implications for our environment in general?
Patrick Rose 22:45
Manatees are kind of the canary in the coal mine for this because they are suffering the sort of early problems with the seagrass loss. If you're a fisherman, you better care because those sea grasses are where the nursery grounds of your fisheries species are. If you care about other animals, if you care about what's your waterway smells like, whether or not your eyes are going to burn, or you're going to see thousands and thousands of dead fish, you should care about what's happening with manatees right now. If you're in tourism in Florida, and you want people to continue to come to appreciate what Florida has to offer, you better care, because we're going to lose it. We're mortgaging Florida's future right now. And if we don't do better, it's going to be foreclosed on us and we won't be a tourist state.
Veronica Alfaro 23:27
So this is not just about affecting manatees.
Patrick Rose 23:31
And literally by protecting manatees and those aquatic ecosystems, we are protecting our own future investments in Florida as human beings.The water we drink the you know, the air we breathe, all those things are interconnected. And by doing it for the manatees first, we're going to do it for ourselves.
Veronica Alfaro 23:48
So specifically, what are some of the actions that Save the Manatee Club is taking right now?
Patrick Rose 23:54
I would reference the manatee rescue and rehabilitation partnership because that's there's just so much going on there. But literally when we saw these numbers beginning to rise, we reached out to the agencies and responders and we found there was a problem with some of the aerial surveys and things that should have been happening that weren't. And so we immediately offered funding and sought out coordinating organizations to work with in order to get those airplanes up and flying, in order to help support the rescue also identification of the manatees and the problems.We educate, we help with awareness, then we move into the science and then literally recovery and rescuing, into the political support for funding and staffing and then support for regulations and literal protections. And then if the government itself fails, we’ll then hold them to account in the courts. And so that's kind of a full service for focus for the manatees but again, always with an eye on those aquatic ecosystems and with an understanding of what climate change is doing and what kinds of effects that's having.One of the challenges on climate change beyond the sea level rise is that wherever people are, there are developments, they're going to be trying to harden those, building seawalls and sort of holding back the water, right? Well, that's the last thing these natural systems need, as the sea levels would rise, if we can't stop it, we need those systems to adapt to those sea levels moving in, and then nature will go to work to try to help as long as we can keep those shallower littoral zones in between. But when you start throwing up the concrete walls and hardening all those surfaces, then we're just going to make it that much worse, and sea grasses are going to suffer tremendously, because they need those shallow areas in order for the light to make it in and hold down on turbidity. And those other factors.
Veronica Alfaro 25:48
No, I was gonna say Mother Nature was not meant to be a swimming pool, like, stop putting your concrete walls in her.
Patrick Rose 25:53
Absolutely, absolutely. And it's amazing how adaptive it can be if it's if it's allowed to do so.Humans are uniquely qualified to mess things up. But on the other hand, we’re, I think, as uniquely qualified to make it right when we do it wrong.
Veronica Alfaro 26:10
Is there anything else that you would like to touch on before we kind of move into talking about the role of boaters and people out on the water?
Patrick Rose 26:20
Well, I'd like to direct people to savethemanatee.org because there we explain why the algal blooms are a problem, we have the ability for people to sign up for action alerts so we can inform them when their voice is needed to be heard, who they can write to, who they may call, or what have you. So we'd love to have them go and do that. We always love people to adopt-a-manatee but that's not the main pitch. We really want to educate. We want to reach out to folks engage them in terms of the grassroots support, because it'll make a huge difference. And it will make a difference to the next topic on the watercraft because the decision-makers need to know that a lot of people care about these issues. And in fact, they need to even hear from boaters that they want to engage on the issues and make it safer for manatees. Just last week, we had a manatee that was likely suffering from red tide toxins in a local system in Southwest Florida. The boaters there actually stayed and aided that manatee and help keep its head above the water to keep it from drowning. So again, boaters aren't the bad guys. But by golly, we got a problem we need to fix.
Veronica Alfaro 27:22
You know being out on the water, you're always thinking about manatees because obviously you know you're in the no wake zones. You see the signs that say manatees, especially being out in the areas of Crystal River and Weeki Wachee. And you're right, you know, the boaters, I know that the boaters care but like what more can voters do?
Patrick Rose 27:40
We have mandatory voter education for those who are essentially about 35 years old and younger, that needs to go to everyone who boats in Florida, because that will require them to understand the rules of the road, know what a uniform waterway marking sign is. And also, I think it may be time to start looking at even increasing some of the fines.More often than not, if you've got somebody just going wide open through a manatee zone they often, when they stop them, they find out they've been drinking. So it's also important, just like on the highways, that we really address those voting and drinking issues. And we also have to help educate our law enforcement community as well as to how important it is to let those boatersthat are just here visiting in Florida know that it's important to abide by these rules, because they may not be as aware of why the manatees are there, why it's important to them.
Veronica Alfaro 28:28
I have noticed that, especially here in Florida, in the Tampa Bay area, there's been a great increase in boating clubs. And a lot of times you have these folks who are taking boats out on the weekend and they don't necessarily know all of the rules. So I 100% agree with everything that you just said. Because not only are we receiving out of state boaters, but even local boaters...they don't have a whole lot of experience they’re just, you know, the weekend warriors. And that's the great thing about living here. But also we have to make sure that we continue to educate everyone on being out on the water.
Patrick Rose 29:06
Absolutely. Yeah. And I love the water. I've been a boater all my life. And I've scuba diver, skin diver and so forth. And yes, when people really do take the time to understand and then how important it is to their own quality boating experience ultimately, and it really helps saves other boaters’ lives as well.
Veronica Alfaro 29:24
So I also wanted to ask you, talking about you know, the folks that like to go out on the boat on the weekend, I wanted to talk a little bit about manatee etiquette, because even having grown up here in the Tampa Bay area, I will admit to not always knowing all of the rules when it comes to you know, because I've had manatee bumped my kayak before which I think is such a cool experience. But I remember being out on Crystal River, having a manatee bump my kayak, and I wasn't sure what to do at the time because I always knew don't touch them. What is kind of like some of the etiquette, Some of the simple rules that people can do to respect the manatees and their habitats when they see them out.
Patrick Rose 30:06
Let’s say if you're in a kayak, a non-motorized vessel, stop about the length of your vessel away from them, then if the manatee itself then approaches you, or comes up and decides it wants to nuzzle your kayak or whatever, let the manatee do what it wants. And but, but do resist petting them or trying to feed them especially even in these times when on the East Coast, we're having such problems, we really don't want people feeding them. Now there might be the need for a controlled government-sponsored feeding this winter. But that's being weighed, it's going to be a really tough decision. It's going to be logistically, you know, complicated, but let's go back to your situation...really give manatees their space. And manatees are not the same. Some might actually want to come up and see you but many others might be put off and chased away, maybe it's a mother with its calf, and it would interrupt their nursing time or their eating and so forth. So it really is wonderful to go slow and observe them and enjoy them. But really let them have the last say, when it comes to coming right up to you.
Veronica Alfaro 31:07
You touched on not feeding the manatees. And I think this is an important thing to talk about too because I know that people are very tempted to perhaps you know, feed them a head of lettuce. There are also a lot of folks who have, for example, like a hose, the water going out off of their dock. And it wasn't until recently that I found out that that also is something that you should not do for manatees.
Patrick Rose 31:32
That's right. And so it is officially illegal to feed manatees or to give them water. So and the reason is that well, one, if they're eating properly, they get enough nutrition, they get enough water from their food, to be able to sustain their actual biological needs. And they’re kind of like kids in some sense, or us, that we like ice cream and so we'll take it if it's available. But that can also alter their normal behavior and keep them in places and set it up for unscrupulous people to do things. We've had situations where people would put hose off their dock and then when the manatees come in to drink the water, we literally had people jumping on top. And in one case right on top of a calf. And the feeding thing, we even had some young men put vegetation on hooks and throw it out on purpose for manatees to then eat that and then snag them in the mouth. And that's sad to say, and that's really the minority, but those bad things can happen. So you might have no issue whatsoever in wanting to be benevolent for that manatee, but then it becomes more trusting of those who they should not trust.
Veronica Alfaro 32:37
Right. So I also wanted to ask you now that we're talking about, you know, like a lay person's etiquette when it comes to manatees. What if, for example, somebody is out kayaking, or they're on their dock, and they see a manatee that could possibly be in distress, what is something that they can do to help?
Patrick Rose 32:55
They do need to look at being able to report that to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, 888-404-3922. And they will actually then report what their location is, what the signs are, and what they should look for. If the manatee is unstable, listing to one side or another. If it's breathing rapidly, let's say the breaths are down to one minute in between, that's a pretty serious situation. If it’s floating really high in the water, or if it's beached itself, or in very shallow water, that's another thing. And when they call in on that hotline someone will talk with them, they'll get the location and they'll get what the manatee’s doing. But many manatees have been saved because those boaters or folks that are out in the water have reported.There's been more than 100 manatees rescued this year already. And a lot of those came from homeowners or from boaters who reported them. So it's really important and it's going to be especially important going forward that they do that.We have free banners that we’ll give out to boaters and other kits. Let's say it's not sick yet, but they see a manatee that is in the water in the main channel, whatever, we have actually banners people can hold up and that will say, “Go slow, manatee below” so that they can actually engage right there to prevent an injury.
Veronica Alfaro 34:07
I think those are two really great tips. First is if you're a boater, it would be great to have one of those kits on board your boat. And the second is for anyone who likes to go out on the weekend like myself, who likes to kayak on rivers to put that FWC number into your cell phone and have it readily available so that if you do come across a situation where you believe a manatee is in trouble or distress, you don't have to try and search for signal or look for the number. Let's talk about what is the biggest goal right now for the Save the Manatee Club.
Patrick Rose 34:38
The biggest goal is to really be the voice for manatees and engage as many people as possible in that mission. And you know, literally letting the legislature, letting Congress and others know that it's important to fix what's broken because so much of what's happening to manatees is because Florida has grown unsustainably. We need to have Florida going forward. If we have development and growth, which we'll have, we're not anti-growth by any means, but we want it to be sustainable. Thinking about the Tampa Bay area, it's given us a past lesson. I think the generation today may not know it. But literally by the 1960s, Tampa Bay had lost about almost 90% of its sea grasses, and it was severe problems from pollution and dredging and filling and so forth. Well the community got together, and they really cleaned up the bay, they made a remarkable recovery on the sea grasses. But we're now seeing signs that it's starting to happen again, we're starting to lose seagrass even in the Tampa Bay area so they can engage again with the local community and look at how their surface waters are being discharged, whether the pollutants that are coming into that and all the different ways to protect those sea grasses. We’re trying to protect manatees wherever they are. So not just the individual manatees, but those ecosystems that they're a part of.
Veronica Alfaro 35:56
I want to thank you so much for giving us so much information today and enlightening me because you know, like I mentioned earlier, even having grown up here even being on the water on a regular basis. There are so many things that I didn't know before that I kind of feel I feel a little bit bad about not knowing beforehand. But now I I'm happy that I'm even more educated. And now we can spread the word even further. Is there anything else that you'd like to discuss?
Patrick Rose 36:25
Yeah, I want to make sure that that your listeners know that we are a founding member of another partnership. It's called the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership. Those other partners are the State of Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but the zoos and aquariums are a part of it. So ZooTampa right there in the Tampa Bay area is a really important partner within the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership, SeaWorld, Jacksonville Zoo, Clearwater Marine Aquarium. So those are all wonderful partners and organizations that are part of the solution. We can't do this alone. So a big part of what Save the Manatee does is help bring all these groups together. We are actually officially also the fiduciary sponsor for the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership. And I say that because we're doing that as a donated process. And we actually will match money that comes into that. And so that's a key part of how we're going to navigate through the problems manatees are facing, by taking care of those sick and injured manatees and make sure they're nurse back and then return to hopefully a safer environment where we're cleaning up those waterways and we're regrowing the seagrasses and preventing future losses. There are many other folks that are working in this situation to make the world a better place. We're just one of those organizations working together.
Veronica Alfaro 37:42
I'm kind of at a loss because I just I feel so overwhelmed with emotion right now. This is, it's just been such a wonderful a wonderful talk with you, Pat. And I really appreciate it. I do want to mention too and I know you didn't mention this, but the Save the Manatee Club is a four-star charity on Charity Navigator. So for anyone who was perhaps thinking about making a monetary donation, this is, on top of everything that you've talked about what your organization does, this is a place that people they can really go to and you guys are saving the lives of manatees.
Patrick Rose 38:18
Thank you so much for those kind words and the opportunity to be here and share with you.
Veronica Alfaro 38:22
I really appreciate it. Patrick Rose, thank you for joining us on our Be More Unstoppable podcast and sharing the important work that you're doing.
For more information about how you can help manatees please visit savethemanatee.org.
To report sick or injured manatees in Florida please call 888-404-FWCC.That's 888-404-3922.
Thank you for listening to Be More Unstoppable. This podcast is produced by WEDU PBS in West Central Florida. For more information, please visit wedu.org/unstoppable.