Florida crosses 1000 dead manatees by 2021
More than 1,000 manatees died in Florida waters this year, according to state data released Wednesday.
This is already a record-setting number, with six weeks still in the year and experts bracing for more hunger as the weather turns colder. Manatees will soon congregate around unnaturally warm water sources, like power plants, where food is scarce.
At least 1,003 manatees have died as of November 12, according to the latest information Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data. In July, Florida surpassing the record a year earlier out of 830 manatee deaths in 2013.
According to Martine deWit, the state veterinarian who heads the organization Fish and Wildlife Research Institute necropsy laboratory in St.Petersburg.
DeWit told TCPalm, a division of the USA TODAY network, that more than 650 carcasses were recorded on the Atlantic Coast through November 5, with about 85% of them in the first four months of this year.
February was the deadliest month, when at least 230 deaths were verified over a 28-day period, according to FWC data. That equates to more than eight per day.
Manatees are in the worst condition along the east coast of the state, where a fifth of the population is likely to have been lost this year. Extended Brevard County of Indus River Lagoon was the deadliest hotspot, where at least 327 manatees had died as of November 12, the data showed.
Decades of seagrass loss due to repeated algal blooms in the lagoon – largely the result of human pollution by runoff of rainfall – have transformed once lush grasslands into habitats. barren moon.
“For the first time, we have literally had a large number of manatees starve to death,” said Pat Rose, aquatic biologist and chief executive officer of Maitland. Save the Manatee Club. “Sadly, this is just an indication that we’ve run into some very serious problems after decades of recovery.”
State and federal wildlife officials in August raised concerns about a lack of seagrass to feed manatees this winter, according to public records obtained by TCPalm. Adults need 100 to 200 pounds a day to survive.
It could take at least a decade for the seagrass to fully recover, and that is “a best-case scenario,” according to notes from a separate August 2 meeting between the FWC, United States Fish and Wildlife Service and other state manatee specialists.
The seagrass habitat in the Indus River lagoon and surrounding waters has declined significantly due to reduced water quality and clarity, the experts warned.
The lagoon has lost 58% of its seagrass area since 2009, or more than 46,000 acres. Most areas face 90% less grass than in previous years.
Signs of a potentially record-breaking year of manatees began to emerge in March, when at least 432 animals died over the winter. That rate is nearly three times higher than the five-year average, according to state wildlife data from 2016 to 2020.
Florida manatees:As the state’s record number of manatee deaths rise, the state and the federal government prepare for another deadly winter.
What is an Unusual Fatal Event?
Monica Ross, a senior research scientist at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium who oversees the tracking and monitoring of released manatees, assists with rescues and has studied the animals for more than 30 years, said: “I have never seen anything like this.
Her team’s fieldwork, she told TCPalm, more than tripled before the peak of the incident.
She’s seen the first hint of what’s to come in January. A manatee was floating, drifting as it stared helplessly at her. That happens when they’re hungry and lack energy, she says.
“It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Many of these horizontal swimmers usually die within a few days. ”
In response to the sharp increase in the death toll, federal wildlife officials in March classified the ongoing deadly phenomenon as a Unusual death event. That designation allows the federal government, working with states and nonprofits, to investigate deaths and streamline resources to prevent more deaths.
“Across a wide range of species, manatee populations appear to be relatively stable,” Federal Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Chuck Underwood told TCPalm. “That, of course, is in contrast to the severe mortality that occurs along Florida’s Atlantic Coast.”
“This is an ongoing event, and it may be a while before the extent of these impacts is fully known and understood,” Underwood said.
Boat dams are the leading cause of manatee deaths – typically
Water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit can be stressful for manatees. As temperatures warm and manatees disperse this summer, boat collisions are once again becoming the leading cause of death, according to FWRI.
This year, 90 manatees have been killed by boats, compared with 91 for all of 2020, state data shows. However, hunger is still a top concern today.
FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson told TCPalm: “The FWC takes this situation seriously and manatee conservation is a top priority for the agency. “We are also continuing to explore various options for supporting manatees.”
One of those options is to feed them. While no decisions have been made, federal and state wildlife officials hold several meetings this year to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of giving non-native freshwater plants to manatees this winter.
But restoring water quality to the ailing lagoon is a priority, Segelson said.
“The goal … continues to be to restore the Indus lagoon to a healthy state,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s a win-win solution for manatees and other wildlife.”
Update Max Chesnes on Twitter: @MaxChesnes.