VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – Nearly 960 manatees have died this year in Florida, according to the latest data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Scientists said the state’s sea cows are starving to death because the seagrass they eat is dying off. Research teams and local government leaders are now looking for solutions as the county continues several ongoing projects focused on cleaning the Indian River Lagoon.
This week, Dr. Tom Goreau presented his BioRock technology as a possible solution at the county council meeting.
“We began building these structures in order to grow corals, which are dying as well, but what we noticed is that seagrass in the surrounding areas were growing and proliferating,” he said.
Goreau said the technology uses low power electrical currents and mesh fencing to spur seagrass growth. Since it’s been successful in other locations, he wants to see if the county is willing to experiment with it to help Indian River Lagoon and its manatees.
“The only alternative is to just let things die and watch them die,” he said. “So we have an option we think can help.”
County staff is researching the technology further and figuring out the cost before signing on, but county leaders know the race is on to clean the lagoon, especially with the record-breaking number of manatee deaths this year.
The county has taken on several projects, most recently, using a grant to purchase 700,000 clams with the Riverside Conservancy.
“In addition to filtering the water, which we know that clams and oysters do, clams are particularly helpful in reestablishing seagrasses,” said Kelli McGee, executive director of the conservancy.
McGee said her team also just finished building a quarter mile of living shoreline along the lagoon, using different plants and oysters to filter the water. She said manatees are already benefiting from it and those who fish in the area will notice it too.
“Those areas where we’ve planted will actually be habitat for juvenile fish species, commercial fish species, as well as recreational fish species,” she said.