TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Manatees are dying at a record rate in Florida, and some experts fear more than 1,000 manatees could die by the end of the year.
According to Florida Fish and Wild Life Conservation Commission, 841 manatees have died so far this year, surpassing the record of 830 in 2013.
“It’s a really big issue,” said Cora Berchem.
Berchem is the director of multimedia and manatee research associate for the Save The Manatee Club. She said the FWC has rescued almost 100 manatees so far this year, which is good, however, the number of dead manatees is still alarming.
According to officials, the main factors killing manatees are pollution, lack of food, red tide, lawn care chemicals and boating accidents.
“The shortage of food sources over on the Atlantic Coast is a big issue,” Berchem said. “That’s happening because of the continued algae blooms. Those algae blooms are blocking the seagrass, so the seagrass cannot grow.”
In 2019, FWC did an aerial survey to estimate the number of manatees in the state. They counted nearly 6,000 manatees at the time — that’s a more than 4,400 increase in the last 29 years.
Experts said that’s good news; however, keep in mind that Manatees normally give birth to one calf at a time, every two to three years.
“So if they are experiencing a big loss like this now, that’s not something they can make up overnight.”
According to Berchem, there are projects underway right now to replant seagrass on the east coast.
“There was a really successful project in Crystal River back in the 90s. It really took off and it’s thriving, so we are seeing that it can be done,” she said. “It works.”
It’s a long and costly process, though. So, officials and activists are asking the public to help. Some ways to do that are: watching out for manatees when we’re on boats, try not using lawn care chemicals during tornado season, and if you see a sick or injured manatee, contact the FWC immediately at 863-648-3200.
Local activists are also pushing for Manatees to be put back on the endangered species list.
“Having them listed as an endangered species gives them more protections and potentially more financial means to enforce these protections,” said Berchem.