Behind The Record Manatee Deaths In Florida

West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris), Florida, USA

Photo: The Image Bank RF

Another month, another 92 manatees dead in Florida’s waterways. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission through July 2nd more manatees had already died than in any prior year in Florida’s recorded history. A total of 841 manatee deaths have been documented in 2021 surpassing the previous record of 830 in 2013. Especially sad, starvation is the leading cause of death and ground zero has been the Indian River Lagoon. That’s not coincidental, it's the lagoon most susceptible to toxic algae discharges from Lake Okeechobee. 

It’s for these reasons Congressman Brian Mast and Governor DeSantis have fought the Army Corp of Engineers hard on the issue of discharges, along with pushing forward with the construction of the southern reservoir for Lake O’ runoff water and the effort to finish raising the Tamiami Trail for the completion of the Everglades Restoration Project. In real-time manatees are showing us how critical it is to permanently end east-west discharges out of Lake Okeechobee and to finish the Everglades Restoration Project. Early this year NOAA declared an “unusual mortality event” and federal studies are now underway to determine how best to curb the sudden surge in manatee deaths. The best answers are already years away. 

The top reason for manatee deaths is starvation as seagrass has continued to die off due to the years of toxic algae build-up and regular discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Related, aside from the record manatee deaths FWC has found about 40% of manatees to be underweight. The manatee crisis today wasn’t created today. It’s been created through years of discharges slowly killing the natural environment in Florida’s waterways which has now reached a capitulation point for Florida’s threatened manatee population. Brian Mast currently has proposed legislation to permanently ban discharges from Lake O’. If Florida’s manatees are to have much of a future that clearly needs to happen - not to mention the rest of the natural environment which relies on the seagrass to thrive as well.

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