Manatees’ future raising concerns

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 5:38 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The state plans to replant millions of clams and oysters in an effort to purify polluted waterways where manatees are starving to death.

As of Monday, a record 968 manatees had died so far this year, and the state fears, the coming winter could be worse.

While the 968 manatee deaths are a record, up 11 since the end of September, there are long term consequences because four in 10 were adults.

“These long-lived, slow-growing, slow to reproduce animals, the adults are really important as far as maintaining that population and having offspring,” said Mellisa Tucker with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Boat encounters continue to be a problem, but more problematic is the lack of food caused by deteriorating water conditions.

“It’s really a crisis, because of all the nutrients and algae in the water. The grass, the sunlight can’t get though to let the grass grow,” said Kate MacFall with the Humane Society of the US.

The most recent survey of manatees by the state was five years ago.

It found there were just over 8,800 of the mammals.

So concerned are lawmakers, one actually told FWC to ask for the money this year to do a new study.

In addition to replanting oysters and clams to clean the water, one contingency could be bringing food to the sea cows to keep them alive this winter.

“Restoration is not working because the water quality that killed the sea grasses to begin with is still there,” said State Representative Thad Altman.

And Altman worries we’re watching the sea mammal go extinct before our eyes.

“You’ve got to keep them alive, and that’s a question that I don’t think we’ve ever had to confront. And I don’t think we ever thought we would have to confront this so quickly, so vastly, where a species is starving to death right before our eyes.”

FWC is spending $8 million this year to protect the manatee.

It’s asking for another $6 million in the coming budget.

Manatee deaths returned to normal once winter’s weather started to warm, but FWC and lawmakers expect the deaths to rise again once cold weather is the norm.