A Tough Year for Florida Manatees

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We are on course for a record year of Florida manatee deaths. Already 554 manatees have died in 2018 with about 4 months still to go. Since last year’s total deaths were 538, more manatees have already died this year than in all of 2017. The number is even higher than the highest ever recorded annual average deaths of manatees going back to before 2013. In fact, up to 2013, the most number of manatees killed in one year was 151.

What’s causing the increased manatee deaths?

While there has been significant success with efforts to preserve manatees, the animals are still facing perils from all quarters. Although the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service insisted that threats were under control during the run to down-listing of manatees from “endangered” to “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act, it has confirmed this year that the threats are still there and fatal as ever for the animals.

The biggest threats that manatees face are still from human actions in and out of their habitats. This year has seen record manatee mortality from watercraft strikes, with boat collisions alone resulting in 81 manatee deaths. Last winter also saw the worst manatee deaths from cold snaps since 2011. That was distressingly demonstrated between Jan. 21-26 alone when 35 manatees died of cold stress. As we have known all along that exposure to temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit results in manatee deaths from cold stress syndrome (hypothermia), this year has proved there is still so much to do in protecting manatees from cold and in facilitating their migrations to warmer areas in the winter.

Red tide bloom: Another growing threat to manatees

As of Sept. 1, 2018, 103 manatees are believed to have been killed by the red tide that has spread along Florida’s southwest coast. And sadly, the tide has been found to be capable of killing at least 10 manatees per day in the areas it has engulfed. So hundreds of manatees are certainly going to die during this deadly algae bloom if action is not taken to rescue them from it. Also called the red tide because it turns water red, the algal bloom occurs almost every year along Florida’s coast, appearing from Sarasota through the heart of Lee County. This algae colony, together with the cyanobacterial blooms associated with discharges from Lake Okeechobee, are a real threat to the manatees that can roll back most of the gains already made in the mammals’ conservation.

How are humans responsible for the algae bloom?

The occurrence of algae in the ocean ecosystem is natural and often non-toxic, with most algae helping to feed aquatic species. But the algae bloom that’s killing Florida manatees consumes oxygen from water, inflicts neurological and respiratory distress to animals and kills aquatic vegetation essential for manatee survival. And while these red tides are typically natural, their frequency and intensity have been largely attributed to human activity.

For instance, land-based nutrients that help to feed the red tide are due to human activities. The red tide bloom is not just fed by land-based nutrients, but also is worsened by the deluge produced by Lake Okeechobee. The land-based nutrients come from agricultural fertilizers, septic systems, urban runoff and animal waste that find their way into the rivers, springs and coastal systems, and in turn fuel the toxic algae blooms. The algae becomes a serious issue for manatees when it settles on sea grass and is ingested by the mammals, reducing their buoyancy and limiting their ability to raise their heads to breathe in air.

Threats from a fresh legal onslaught

Manatees are not just facing threats already existing in their habitats. Currently there are attempts to change the laws that have been in place for decades to protect the animals and their habitat. For instance, there is an onslaught of amendments in Congress intended to weaken the Endangered Species Act. They include the recent proposals by the Department of Interior, such as the removal of critical provisions for protecting threatened species and the rules controlling interagency consultation procedures. These and many other proposed legal changes are likely to expose manatees to fresh threats and lead to more annual deaths.

So as you are planning your next manatee tour, have these issues at the back of your mind. Remember that manatees are still facing many physical and legal threats and need your respect and effort to protect them. Follow the laid out rules and regulations when you are in their habitat and choose a manatee tour provider that believes in manatee conservation. For more information on manatees, manatee tours and manatee conservation, visit the “’Captain Mike’s Swimming With The Manatees” site.

Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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