Another Record Manatee Mortality Year Unfolding
400 Manatee Perish in First Two Months as Seagrasses Continue Retreat
Tallahassee — Hundreds of Florida manatees have died in little more than the first eight weeks of 2022, the latest state figures indicate. Unabated pollution in Florida waters continues to smother seagrasses, the manatees’ major food source, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Through March 4, 2022, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission recorded 400 manatee deaths, putting the state on a path to a second year of record mortality, after a total of 1,101 manatee deaths were tallied in 2021. Last year’s mortality accounted for roughly 15% of the entire manatee population, then estimated at 7,520 animals.
If manatees keep dying at the current rate, then 2022 will more than double last year’s record losses. Unfortunately, there appears to be scant cause for optimism because –
- Manatee starvation is mounting as seagrasses die off. A joint federal-state emergency effort has already dropped 110 tons of lettuce and other produce on top of starving manatees since this unprecedented feeding operation began on January 20th;
- Water pollution, which suffocates seagrasses and spurs toxic algal blooms, also continues unabated, with little if any state enforcement to curb violations; and
- The state has sharply reduced the rate of necropsies, so that precise causes of manatee deaths are harder to pinpoint. Thus far, 280 manatee carcasses, 70% of the total, were not necropsied, and even higher percentage than in 2021.
“Without necropsies, state officials are flying blind in the middle of a biological storm,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, noting that major causes of manatee mortality, such as watercraft strikes, are not being tracked. “Not pinpointing the causes makes it that much harder to recognize effective solutions.”
Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature has again deadlocked on approaches to help restore depleted seagrasses.
“Florida lacks a coherent strategy for saving the manatee,” added Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for the state Department of Environmental Protection, pointing to the absence of any plan to protect water quality in manatee habitat. “The shallow waters that harbor manatees are more sensitive to the impacts of pollution and are in desperate need of relief.”