More than 1,000 manatees have died in Florida so far this year, dwarfing an earlier annual record as endangered marine mammals struggle to starve due to water pollution.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported the updated total on Wednesday. The 1,003 manatee deaths to date in 2021 are much higher than the 637 recorded last year and well above the previous 830 mark in 2013.
Slow, bulky manatees struggle to coexist with humans for a long time. Boat attacks left some dead and many injured. But state officials and environmental groups say: dirty water drain from agriculture, sewage and other man-made developments has caused algal blooms in estuaries, choking the seaweed that manatees rely on. Climate change makes the problem worse.
Authorities were expecting another bad year for manatees, with more deaths as Florida enters the winter months when the animals congregate in warm water areas where food supplies have become scarce. Seagrass meadows on the east coast of the state are particularly hard hit.
To make the problem worse, manatees are slow to reproduce. According to the non-profit Save the Manatee Club – Co-founder of Florida troubadour Jimmy Buffet – a calf is born every two to five years after a manatee reaches sexual maturity at around 5 years of age. Twin births are rare.
“Manatees are in serious trouble” ZooTampa in Lowry Park, one of the top four manatee intensive care centers in Florida, said in a statement on Wednesday. “The loss of more than 1,000 manatees this year is deeply worrying and will have serious implications in the years to come.”
The commission is asking state lawmakers to approve $ 7 million in the upcoming legislature for seaweed restoration, manatee rehabilitation centers, and other projects. Legislators approved $ 8 million last year.
Manatees were listed as an endangered species from 1966, but their status was changed to threatened in 2017. A new push is underway to re-label it as vulnerable in order to draw more resources and attention to the problem.
The Wildlife Commission estimates that 7,500 manatees, also known as manatees, currently live in Florida’s waters. Lookout areas around the winter hot water spots are a major tourist attraction across the state.