Story at a glance
- There have been 749 manatee deaths recorded in Florida between Jan. 1, 2021 and May 21, 2021.
- In 2018, a record-high of 804 manatee deaths were reported for the entire year.
- The loss of seagrass, a main food source for manatees, brought on by algal blooms and waste poisoning the water has led to their starvation.
A high number of manatee deaths in Florida have environmental groups on high alert.
From the beginning of the year through May 21, 2021, 749 manatee deaths were recorded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In 2018, a record-high of 804 manatee deaths were reported, with 2021 on track to surpass that.
Conservationists have pointed to the mass loss of seagrass, a main food source for manatees, leading to their starvation. The dying off of seagrass has been linked to recurring blue-green algal blooms and red tides, which remove nutrients seagrass needs to grow and poison the waters.
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In Indian River Lagoon, a 156-mile estuary that attracts manatees each year, 58 percent of its seagrass has disappeared since 2009. Further complicating the issue is the recent leak of toxic waste from the shuttered Piney Point fertilizer plant into Tampa Bay.
And, according to Bob Graham, former Florida governor and co-founder of Save the Manatee, the danger to manatees has only grown since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “dropped the ball” by changing the manatee’s conservation status from “endangered” to “threatened” in 2019.
“They listened to anti-manatee groups and prematurely took manatees off the endangered species list over the objections of scientists and thousands of Americans who understood that the manatees’ future was not secure but in fact could get much worse,” Graham said.
To combat the growing issue, Democrat Stephanie Murphy and Republican Brian Mast have drafted legislation to bring to Congress that aims to increase the federal funding for manatee protection to $7 million. This would allocate wildlife experts better funding to rescue and treat injured and sick manatees, as well as study the environmental conditions leading to the recent surge in deaths.
“This bipartisan legislation will provide federal support for efforts to rescue and rehabilitate these mammals,” Mast said, “while also strengthening efforts to stop this destruction before it’s too late.”
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