Florida taco chain teams up with wildlife officials to help feed manatees. Here’s how to help

Proceeds from salad purchases will go toward feeding manatees

ORLANDO, Fla. – A taco chain based in Florida is helping feed the manatees, teaming up with wildlife officials.

Capital Tacos, originally from Tampa, will be providing lettuce to manatees during this winter for every salad purchased at its locations.

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While 2022 did not prove to be as deadly for Florida’s manatees as 2021, researchers said the animals are still in trouble, especially in the Indian River Lagoon. Biologists said they expect the number to grow this winter, specifically here in Central Florida.

The chain said a portion of proceeds from each salad sold in January will go toward feeding Florida manatees.

Capital Tacos opened a location in Winter Park in November. The restaurant bills itself as ‘Tex Mex done right’, with a menu focusing on burritos, nachos, quesadillas and, of course, tacos. It also features sides such as fries, queso bits and Mexican street corn.

These winter months are the toughest for manatees. They’re trying to stay warm and find food, which Dr. Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, said is still sparse, causing many to starve.

2021 marked a record-breaking year for manatee deaths, the majority of which were in the Indian River Lagoon, where a lack of seagrass has caused manatees to starve to death.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s latest data shows a preliminary count of 783 manatees died so far in Florida in 2022. That’s compared to 1,080 in 2021 during that same time frame.

Capital Tacos’ co-founder James Marcus told News 6 that the company is kicking off its “Salad for Salad” initiative, which is aimed at raising awareness for the manatees.

“Our hope is that spreading the word ends up raising, you know, five, ten times more from people, just, like, hearing about it, going to these organizations’ websites and donating to them directly, whether they buy a salad from us or not,” Marcus said.

FWC Capt. Thomas Van Trees said the Field Response Station and Unified Command located at Florida Power and Light’s Clean Energy Center in Cape Canaveral is up and running for the 2022-2023 winter season.

“The response station supports several ongoing UME response operations in the Central Indian River Lagoon, such as manatee rescue, carcass recovery, limited field health assessments and short-term supplemental feeding trials for manatees at this site,” Van Trees said.

Officials said there are currently 79 Florida manatees in care facilities throughout Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Puerto Rico.

Terri Calleson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said she feels they are in a good place when it comes to critical care space.

“That could certainly change, but with Sea World and Bishop and many of our other partners that are bringing on additional space to try and put us in a better space for the future, I think we’re really in a good place right now,” Calleson said.

In the meantime, it’s important to remember that feeding wild manatees requires a special permit. Anyone who needs to report a sick, injured, dead or tagged manatee can call FWC’s Wildlife Alert toll-free number at 1-888-404-FWCC and press 7 to speak with an operator. Cell phone users can dial *FWC or #FWC.

Click here to find a Capital Tacos location near you.

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About the Authors:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.

Emily joined WKMG-TV in November 2022.