State, Feds unite as manatee dies top 1000
State and federal wildlife agencies have formed a joint team as they continue to respond to an alarming number of manatees dying in Florida and as the waters begin to cool due to lumbering sea cows.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday announced a joint incident management team to respond to the “unusual fatality event” along the state’s Atlantic coast, including the Indian River Lagoon.
“We take this situation very seriously and are committed to working with our partners including the US Fish and Wildlife Service to explore short-term solutions to death, as well as much-needed long-term solutions to restore the lake’s ecosystem,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission President Rodney Barretto. In a prepared statement.
The state agency reported this week that 1,003 manatees died in Florida waters in 2021, more than 10 percent of the estimated manatee population in state waters.
Roughly two-thirds of the deaths occurred along the East Coast, and most were recorded during the first four months of the year. The previous one-year high was 830 in 2013.
Last year, the state recorded 637 manatee deaths.
The main cause of mortality was starvation, as seagrass beds which are prime foraging areas for manatees in India River Lake have decreased due to frequent algal blooms over the past decade. The state estimates that 58 percent of the seaweed has been lost in the northern Indian Lagoon River.
The state budget for the current fiscal year includes $8 million for manatee habitat restoration efforts.
In October, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced it was asking lawmakers for nearly $7 million in the upcoming fiscal year, as wildlife officials scramble to tackle Florida’s deteriorating water problem.
In the new funding request, the commission requested $3 million to restore and enhance lakes, rivers, springs and estuarine habitats and $2.95 million to expand the manatee welfare network. Another $717,767 is being sought to increase the manatee rescue effort, an application that includes two full-time jobs.
Lawmakers will consider the request during the 2022 legislative session, which begins in January.
On Tuesday, Governor Ron DeSantis put forward a $1.51 billion proposal for environmental spending that included $175 million to improve targeted water quality and $35 million to increase water quality monitoring and combat algal blooms.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has asked the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the threatened manatee as “endangered.” It described a March 2017 decision to reclassify manatees as “threatened” under the Federal Endangered Species Act as “misleading.”
In 2017, the federal agency noted an increase in manatee populations and improved habitat due to conservation efforts by Florida, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and public and private organizations. Until that time, manatees had been classified as critically endangered for half a century.