FORT MYERS, Florida – It’s already a deadly year for Florida manatees.
According to records from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, more sea cow deaths have been documented in the first two months of the year than were recorded in those same two months in 2019. and 2020 combined.
As of February 12, the state recorded 317 manatee deaths, but former FWC commissioner Ron Bergeron said he believed the number was closer to 350 sea cows.
Manatee advocates have confirmed the mortality, saying it was another example of poor water quality.
“It’s something we’ve never really seen before,” said Pat Rose, manager of the Save the Manatee Club. “It appears that we have a substantial number of starving manatees.”
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Rose congratulated FWC for working on the mortality event while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
But the truth, he said, is that “the manatees are dying,” he said. “There is no denying that, and it all starts with the quality of the water.”
The average of the past five years shows 100 documented deaths each year, with around eight perinatal deaths.
The current rate sets the state on pace to record more than 2,100 deaths this year, which could represent up to a third of the state’s documented population.
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“ We have suffered an entire ecological loss ”
Boat kills and deaths from cold stress are also counted, as usual, according to FWC records. But the Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic side of the state is suffering, accounting for the majority of the losses.
The theory is that the losses of seagrass there over the past few decades have left manatees with too little food to survive.
“It’s disgusting,” said Mike Conner, the Indian Riverkeeper. “I have thought about it and told the guides about it and they firmly believe it is a case of starvation.”
It’s another example of a state that is increasingly facing water quality issues, from blue-green algae to red tide and brown algae, Conner said.
Coastal fishing guides have seen the deaths, and they think it’s related to the bad water.
“The raw truth of the matter is due to the neglect of our storm water, we have had continual algal blooms over the past 10 years, which blocks seagrass and kills them,” said Billy Rotne, guide of Indian River Lagoon. “So the manatees are starving.”
FWC did not comment on Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s uncomfortable for the agencies to talk about it,” Rotne said. “There is no food here. We have suffered total ecological loss. Look on Google Earth. He is gone. All the significant area of seagrass on which they depend is gone.”
FWC commissioners were due to meet on Thursday and Friday, when restrictions on the catch and release of snook, trout and rockfish and the addition of black rail to the endangered and threatened species list. the state will be reviewed.
The release regulations began following a devastating red tide bloom, which ravaged the southwest coast of Florida – particularly Lee County – for a 16-month period ranging from fall 2017 to spring 2019.
Follow reporter Chad Gillis on Twitter: @ChadEugene
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