POWELL, Ohio (WCMH) – Becky Ellsworth, Curator of the Shores and Aquarium exhibit at the Columbus Zoo gave NBC4 an exclusive behind the scenes look at what goes into feeding the manatees and all of their friends at the several-hundred-thousand-gallon exhibit – Manatee Coast.

“This is where we do all of our diet prep. So, don’t forget we have other animals in our habitat besides manatees,” said Becky Ellsworth, curator shores and aquarium at the Columbus Zoo.

“Each manatee probably eats 100 pounds of lettuce a day. So, we feed them all day long from the time we get there until the time we leave,” Ellsworth, said.

Feeding time, which consists of about 600 heads of lettuce a day, is a hands-off approach with the manatees since they will eventually be back in the wild.

Boat strikes and entanglements are constant issues plaguing manatees but in recent years loss of food has become devastating to the point that the government is providing supplemental feeding.

“They are providing them with lettuce romaine lettuce the same as what we’re feeding today out in those areas to try to keep them up through the wintertime,” Ellsworth said.

With the manatees fed, it was time for the other inhabitants of Manatee Coast.

“Squid is the Hershey’s Kisses of the turtle world,” said caretaker Dan Nellis.

There’s Buddy the sea turtle, pelicans Scoop, Ladel and Ken, who weren’t so sure about us. But the stingrays were all in, especially Freckles.

The sad reality of what we learned is that there are 60 different types of seagrass and sea lettuce that the manatees eat in the wild and it is becoming so hard to come by that the manatees are starving at alarming rates, which often times can lead to orphaned calves like we are seeing at the zoo.

Florida officials are working to regulate things like fertilizers to keep runoff out of waterways and also rebuild some of that loss of plant life.

You can check out NBC4’s Manatee Coast series online at nbc4i.com, along with some information about how you can help the manatees at the Columbus Zoo.