Researchers perform a health assessment on a manatee they captured in the waters near OUC’s Indian River Plant.

 A manatee health assessment operation conducted on the shores of OUC’s Indian River power plant on Dec. 13-14 yielded some encouraging news: All 10 of the captured manatees appeared to be good enough shape to be returned to their habitat.

“The manatees we found appeared to be in better shape than the ones we captured last year,” said U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Research Ecologist Dan Slone. “As long as the remaining seagrass habitat does not decline further, we’re encouraged by the state of the manatees we observed this week.”

Slone led a 40-person team comprised of members of USGS, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SeaWorld Orlando, Brevard Zoo, and Volusia County. USGS and partners have conducted manatee health assessments in Florida for decades.

A capture boat nets a manatee in the intake canal of OUC’s Indian River Plant (background).

Slone attributed the promising but still preliminary results of the health assessments to improved habitat in the Mosquito Lagoon, a connecting body of water a few miles northeast of the Indian River Plant site.

Manatees are federally protected as a “threatened species.” Their population along Florida’s East Coast has been in decline largely because of the depletion of seagrass caused by algal blooms linked to high nutrient loads. This year, the FWC recorded 774 manatee deaths as of Dec. 16, 2022, with Brevard accounting for 343, the most in the state. A total of 1,052 manatees died in 2021, according to the FWC.

OUC provides manatee science and conservation groups access to its Indian River Plant’s private boat launch and canal so they can conduct rescues or research operations. Slone also worked on a manatee health assessment project last December with OUC’s assistance. At last year’s health assessment, researchers found captured manatees notably thin and transferred two to rehab facilities due to apparent signs of starvation and/or injury