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Number of manatee deaths in Florida this year has already surpassed the total for all of 2017

Posted: 4:09 PM, Aug 21, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-21 16:09:27-04
Number of manatee deaths in Florida this year has already surpassed the total for all of 2017

(CNN) In just the first eight months of the year, the number of manatee deaths in Florida has surpassed the total for all of 2017, according to a report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Some 540 manatees died through Aug. 12 compared with 538 manatee deaths in 2017, PEER said citing data from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission. Experts blame the spike on cold weather and toxic red tide algae.

If manatee deaths continue at this rate for the rest of the year, 10% of the manatee population will perish, the PEER report said.

"Florida's manatees have no defense against this ecological disaster," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement. Ruch said red tide poisons both manatees and their food supply. "Florida's steadily declining water quality is a death warrant for the manatee."

There have been more red tide-related manatee deaths this year than in any year of the past decade -- with the exception of 2013, PEER said. Red tide is the known or suspected cause of 97 manatee deaths this year. In 2013, 277 red tide-related manatee deaths were recorded, pushing the total number of deaths to 803 that year.

Red tide blooms are fast-growing colonies of algae that often turn the water red and are common in the Florida area. The blooms have ravaged marine life, causing dead fish, sea turtles, manatees and a whale shark to wash ashore.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order this month declaring a state of emergency for seven counties dealing with an unusually lengthy red tide algae bloom, his office said.