Florida’s manatees are dying off at a concerning rate, with hundreds of deaths reported across the state so far this year, resulting in the state’s Senate and wildlife agency holding an emergency meeting.
Concerns from people worried about the state’s beloved sea cows are growing and now, state leaders are getting involved.
On Monday, the state Senate together with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will be holding an emergency meeting to talk about the alarming die-off being seen in manatees this year.
So far in 2021, more than 400 manatees are reported to have died statewide. According to the FWC, a record 200 manatees have died in the Indian River Lagoon.
Experts say the deaths are the result of starvation coming from a lack of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon.
Pollution is creating ongoing algae blooms and clouding the waters, preventing sunlight from getting to the bottom. And that lack of food forces manatees to swim away from warmer waters, and the cooler water is shocking their systems into cold stress.
“Our beautiful, local manatees are dying in numbers we’ve never seen before,” said Phil Stasik, KSC Barracudas Dive Team. “They don’t have anything to eat, their food source has been cut off.”
Stasik has seen the graveyard of bones left behind from the manatees firsthand while out kayaking. This is a big problem, he said, that Floridians need to be paying attention to.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, I don’t think anyone has, this is a die-off nobody has ever seen before,” Stasik said.
That die-off rate trend is concerning many in central Florida, especially considering a recent study from Science Direct.
It looked at levels of glyphosate and its breakdown product found in manatee plasma over a 10-year period. The popular herbicide is used as a sugarcane ripener. The study showed more than half the manatees tested between 2009 and 2019 had increased levels of the herbicide.
There is no immediate connection to the study and deaths of manatees so far this year. Samples from the water and manatees for that particular study were taken before then.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has declared the manatee deaths as an “unusual mortality event,” the first to be declared since 2019. A federal probe into the manatee deaths have also been launched.
The FWC urges anyone who sees a distressed or dead manatee to call 1-888-404-3922.