Florida’s Manatees Suffering Another Very Bad Year
Mortality Through September on Track for Second Deadliest Year on Record
Washington, DC — The all-time-record manatee die-off in 2021 will likely be followed by the second worst on record based on figures through the first ten months, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Unfortunately, the factors driving high manatee mortality have not been curbed and may be worsening.
The latest reports from Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission indicate that 712 manatees have perished so far this year, as of October 7th. That preliminary figure is already substantially above the five-year annual average mortality of 567.
If manatee deaths in the ten months were projected for the entire year, the annual manatee mortality would reach approximately 854 manatee deaths during calendar 2022. That would be the second-highest mortality on record, second only to last year’s 1,101 deaths.
This year’s preliminary total is also already more than five times the potential biological removal level set under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as the maximum number of animals (not including natural mortalities) that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population.
“Last year’s manatee emergency is continuing with full force,” stated Colleen Teubner, Litigation and Policy Attorney at PEER, pointing out that another 91 manatees are in rehabilitation facilities, some of which are not expected to recover sufficiently for release. “Prospects for a sustainable manatee population in the wild are dimming.”
The State of Florida projects a 30% to 50% decline in manatee population over the next 60 years due to the triple threat of rising boat traffic, loss of habitat (particularly warm springs), and red tides and algal blooms poisoning the manatees and their food supplies.
Meanwhile, a joint federal-state program to feed starving manatees in areas where seagrass, their main food source, has disappeared has ended. Yet, the water pollution killing off seagrasses, especially from sewage spills and the release of nutrient-rich treated water continues unabated.
At the same time, knowledge about specific causes of manatee mortality is also decreasing. More than half of this year’s manatee deaths (384) have not been necropsied, on top of the 34 necropsied manatees for which no cause of death could be determined.
“Without knowing more about the drivers of manatee mortality, an overall survival strategy for the remaining population is problematic, to say the least,” added Teubner. “All we do know is that Florida offers less and less safe and healthy habitat for manatees with each passing year.”