TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The first seven months of this year have seen a record 900-plus manatees die in Florida’s waterways.
While that figure is staggering enough in its own right, the total is expected to reach as high as 1,200 by year’s end.
The Save the Manatee Club and two other nonprofit organizations have given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they plan to sue if more isn’t done to protect the sea mammal.
Data compiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows 905 manatee deaths have been recorded so far this year, shattering the record of 830 set in 2017.
And, according to the Save the Manatee Club, the problem is only going to get worse.
“We’re looking at the potential of hundreds more dying from starvation,” said Patrick Rose, the group’s executive director.
FWC said it’s been told the problem is due to a lack of seagrasses, which manatees eat, particularly on the Atlantic Coast.
“If it’s a red tide, it comes and goes. If it’s a cold kill, it comes and goes,” FWC Research Institute Director Gil McRae said. “This one, we’re uncertain how long the impact is going to be.”
Three nonprofits, including the Save the Manatee Club, have filed notice that they plan to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to force the government to come up with more funding to address the manatee deaths.
The lack of food is so severe that state and federal agencies, along with nonprofit groups, are exploring putting stressed manatees into rehabilitation centers or providing food to the mammals this winter.
“Manatees can eat up to 100 pounds of food or more a day in terms of aquatic plants,” Rose said. “If you times that by 1,000 or 2,000 manatees, that’s a monumental task.”
Rose is confident the Fish and Wildlife Service will concede the problem exists before a lawsuit is filed.
“We think that this will work out in a way to the benefit of the manatees,” he said.
Before seagrasses began disappearing, the manatee statistically had less than a 1-percent chance of becoming extinct over the next 100 years. But with water quality issues cropping up, there’s now a 6-percent chance.
Two Florida lawmakers have filed a bill to move the manatee from threatened status to endangered, which would free up more funding and resources to save the manatee population.