Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) is allocating more than $700,000 in grants from its charitable arm, the NextEra Energy Foundation, that will go to environmental organizations to support manatee rescue, rehabilitation, and habitat restoration.
The company’s announcement comes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are creating a temporary field response station at FPL’s Cape Canaveral Clean Energy Center. The energy center is located in the northern Indian River Lagoon and is a critical stop-off point where manatees congregate as they migrate south during the winter. Officials added that donations made through FPL’s charitable arm, the NextEra Energy Foundation, are a portion of this commitment as part of the company’s comprehensive response to the 2021 Florida manatee Unusual Mortality Event (UME).
“Environmental stewardship is a critical aspect of FPL’s continued efforts to deliver clean, reliable and affordable energy to its customers,” said Kate MacGregor, FPL vice president of environmental services. “For over 30 years, we have worked closely with state and federal agencies to ensure manatees are protected and we stand ready to support FWC and USFWS in their ongoing conservation efforts for this important species.”
Researchers have determined the cause of the manatee UME is starvation, which is attributed to a lack of seagrass, a primary food source, in the Indian River Lagoon. Historically, extensive seagrass meadows were common throughout the Indian River Lagoon. However, several factors have led to the catastrophic loss of seagrass beds since 2011.
FPL will provide the grants to the Florida Atlantic University Foundation for the FAU Harbor Branch Experimental Seagrass Nursery located in Fort Pierce, as well as the Florida Oceanographic Society located in Stuart. FWC is funding the expansion of the seagrass nursery while FPL is providing the funding to operate the nursery for two years. This project aims to use seagrass nursery technology as part of the seagrass restoration efforts in the Indian River Lagoon.
“We are very grateful to receive this gift from FPL and for the continuous support they have given FAU Harbor Branch for our ongoing research in marine science and technology addressing critical issues affecting our marine ecosystems,” said Jim Sullivan, Ph.D., executive director, FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. “The funding for this project will continue the momentum in our Marine Ecosystem Health program’s seagrass nursery, allowing our researchers to apply unique techniques to help repair the damages to the crucial aquatic plants that are essential to the health of the Indian River Lagoon, but also serve as a population-dependent dietary staple for the lagoon’s manatees.”
In partnership with FWC, FPL is also funding a manatee rescue transport truck for FWC. During the 2020-2021 manatee season, FPL noted there was a significantly higher number of manatee rescues throughout the east coast of Florida than in previous seasons. This new truck will be added to the FWC fleet to expand rescue efforts and will be used to transport sick or injured manatees to rehabilitation facilities throughout Florida. Manatee Lagoon has also added a new staff position: a Conservation and Education Liaison, who will support educational outreach at Manatee Lagoon as well as assist FWC staff with manatee rescues and releases in the field.
“Manatee conservation in Florida is a highly collaborative effort involving numerous partners from private industry, government and non-profit organizations,” added Gil McRae, director for the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “FPL has consistently been at the forefront of these collaborative efforts and these timely and substantive actions further affirm that commitment. We remain grateful and appreciative of FPL’s continuing support of manatee conservation.”
Earlier this year, FPL announced a matching grant to the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature in Bradenton to support its efforts to increase their capacity for manatee rehabilitation during this critical time. The Bishop has been rehabilitating manatees since 1998 and was a founding member of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) in 2001. The Bishop matched and surpassed that goal in late November.
Additionally, working with state and local organizations, Manatee Lagoon plans to build a new ramp to help rescue and release manatees. This ramp will provide an additional safe access point for staff from MRP organizations.