Photo by NOAA via Unsplash

According to Florida’s state officials, more manatees have died this year compared to previous years, primarily due to starvation from the loss of seagrass beds. 

Between Jan. 1 and July 2, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported 841 manatee deaths. This breaks the previous record measured in 2013 where 830 manatees died due to an outbreak of toxic red tide. As the year nears to a close, the manatee death toll is likely to increase

This year, more than half of the deaths have occurred in the Indian River Lagoon and its surrounding areas in Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties. Some biologists believe that water pollution is killing seagrass beds in the area, directly affecting the manatees there.

“Unprecedented manatee mortality due to starvation was documented on the Atlantic coast this past winter and spring,” said Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in a statement. “Most deaths occurred during the colder months when manatees migrated to and through the Indian River Lagoon, where the majority of seagrass has died off.”

In addition to the killing of seagrass beds, boat strikes are also a major cause of manatee deaths, responsible for killing 63 this year. 

“Unless agencies and the legislature enact and enforce regulations that stop pollution at the source, before those nutrients enter our waterways, the problem will only get worse. You can replant seagrasses, but if nutrient pollution continues to foul our water, the solution is short lived, the grasses will continue to die, and we’re not really getting to the root of the problem,” Brenda Wells, Florida Springs Council communications director, told Scriberr News.

The federal government once classified the manatee as endangered, but was later reclassified as threatened in 2017. According to the federal government, roughly 6,300 manatees live in Florida waters, an increase from 1,300 in the early 1990s. With the current status, environmentalists are asking that the animal be classified as endangered again. 

In March, FWC declared the high rate of manatee death an Unusual Mortality Event, which allows the federal and state governments to help FWC in organizing actions to prevent more deaths. 

Florida wildlife officials will receive an additional $8 million this year to help manatees rebound from the rapid die-offs, most of which will likely go to habitat rehabilitation. This amount is more than double the usual amount allocated for manatee recovery. 

In June, a coalition of 16 environmental groups and clean water-dependent businesses urged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to address the manatee crisis and deteriorating lagoon. In response, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced that a state emergency order is not necessary since the state is using its resources to respond to the crisis. 

“The evidence is overwhelming and indisputable that the Indian River Lagoon, one of the most biodiverse estuaries in North America, has become an unhealthy, algae-dominated ecosystem,” the coalition wrote to DeSantis.

Written ByVivian Kwang

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