SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – 2021 has been a grim year for one of Florida’s iconic sea creatures. Between Jan. 1 and July 2, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recorded 841 manatee deaths, including at least 87 in the Tampa Bay area. FWC says most of the sea cows died from starvation due to the loss of seagrass beds.
The latest data shatters records from years past. The FWC reported 637 manatee deaths in all of 2020 and 607 in all of 2019. The number so far this year tops the state’s all-time annual record of 830 manatee deaths back in 2013.
8 On Your Side spoke with Dr. James Powell with Clearwater Marine Aquarium who has studied manatees for more than 40 years.
“What is particularly disturbing this year is what has been happening over on the east coast of Florida with what they call an ‘unusual mortality event’. That is a much bigger issue. It is much more complex and it is much more difficult to try and do something about,” explained Dr. Powell.
The researcher explained it all comes down to one thing, water quality.
“We need to do something about improving the water quality. If we are saving manatees by saving their habitat, that is good for everybody and everything,” said Dr. Powell. “All the things that we adore about Florida is potentially at risk if we don’t do something about it because we are all about the beaches and recreation and tourists. We can’t ignore it. This die-off of manatees is terrible for this wonderful creature, but it’s got to be a wake-up call for us to understand that we also have to do something about their habitat and water quality,” he explained.
Just last month, Congressman Vern Buchanan wrote a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urging them to upgrade the manatee from ‘threatened’ to ‘endangered’. In the message, the Congressman pointed out the staggering number of manatee deaths in Florida so far this year.
“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida, and we should be doing everything in our power to protect them and ensure their continued survival. Considering the number of manatee deaths so far this year, re-designating the manatee as endangered, which provides for the highest levels of federal protection and conservation efforts, is critical,” wrote the Congressman.
8 On Your Side asked officials how the public can help.
“Every little bit helps and adds up,” said Dr. Powell. “We know that fertilizer is in the summertime with all the rain we get runs off into the streets and into our water systems and so that increases local nutrients that then feeds these algal blooms. Even pollution and trash going into the waterways is a bad thing. It is going to take everybody sort of doing their part all the way up to the different agencies and the political will and what people can do individually,” he explained.
If you see a sick, injured or dead manatee, contact the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline through one of these options:
- Call 888-404-FWCC (3922)
- Call #FWC or *FWC from your cell phone