The manatee death count in Florida has surpassed all other recorded years in 2021, and the year is only halfway over.
Between January 1, 2021, and July 2, 2021, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) has counted 841 manatee deaths – a record for any year in history.
2013 held the previous record for manatee deaths when red tide, a deadly algal bloom, swept through the area and is thought to have contributed to the 830 deaths.
For this year, however, there are different things at play that are resulting in the deaths of manatees. According to NPR, boats are a large threat to manatees and resulted in 63 or more deaths this year alone.
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However, TCPalm reported that the majority of manatee deaths this year were a result of starvation in the Indian River Lagoon and surrounding areas.
While the cause of the issue is still under investigation, some believe that the area may be deadly because of contaminants destroying vital food sources.
According to The Guardian, the FFWCC explained:
“Unprecedented manatee mortality due to starvation was documented on the Atlantic coast this past winter and spring. 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.”
The reason that the seagrass has died off is unknown, but some suspect it’s because of algal blooms – the cause of the last record manatee deaths in 2013 – among other factors, like human contamination.
16 environmental groups are fighting to save the manatees and have formed a coalition to address the crisis, according to TCPalm. That news organization reported that the coalition sent a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis regarding the reality of the environment of the Indian River Lagoon and its impact on the ecosystem and wildlife.
In the letter, they wrote, “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.”
Algal blooms can be triggered by human activity, when certain chemicals, like those found in fertilizers, are leaked into the water. Algal blooms can kill marine mammals directly as we saw back in 2013, but they can also cause significant harm indirectly like we’re seeing this year with the disappearance of the manatees’ food source.
Hopefully through conservation efforts, we can make changes to address the issue and save future manatees’ lives in the process.Whizzco