What’s Behind Record Manatee Deaths In Florida

What’s Causing Record Manatee Deaths In Florida

Bottom Line: The year was 2014. Three years removed from what was coined the toxic algae “superbloom” of 2011, seagrass levels had begun to meaningfully recover in the Indian River Lagoon. During the “superbloom” an estimated 60% of the Lagoon’s seagrass died out as the toxic algae did its dirty work. After three years, free from toxic algae, 12% of the seagrass had returned and there was hope the trend of recovery would continue. And generally, it did until the 2016 toxic algae crisis which was followed up by the 2018 crisis and all along the way discharges have sporadically continued from Lake Okeechobee which consistently contain unhealthy nutrients along with additional fresh water poured into estuaries which further erode the natural environment. 

It’s for these reasons Congressman Brian Mast and Governor DeSantis have fought the Army Corp of Engineers hard on the issue of discharges, along with pushing forward with the construction of the southern reservoir for Lake O’ runoff water and the effort to finish raising the Tamiami Trail and to complete the Everglades Restoration Project. In real-time manatees are showing us how critical it is to permanently end east-west discharges out of Lake Okeechobee and to finish the Everglades Restoration Project. A stunning report from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation commission shows that 749 manatees have now died in Florida’s waters this year. The previous annual record was 804 in 2018. Clearly, we’ve got a problem. What’s more is that only 102 of the deaths have been determined to be natural, that is unless you consider starvation natural. 

NOAA has declared an “unusual mortality event” and federal studies are now underway to determine how best to curb the sudden surge in manatee deaths. The best answers are already years away. The top reason for manatee deaths appears to be starvation as seagrass has continued to die off due to the years of toxic algae build up and regular discharges from Lake Okeechobee. FWC has found about 40% of manatees to be underweight and 89 are currently in captivity being rehabilitated. The manatee crisis today wasn’t created today. It’s been created through years of discharges slowly killing the natural environment in Florida’s waterways which has now reached a capitulation point for Florida’s threatened manatee population. Brian Mast currently has proposed legislation to permanently ban discharges from Lake O’. If Florida’s manatees are to have much of a future that clearly needs to happen - not to mention the rest of the natural environment which relies on the seagrass to thrive as well. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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