Florida manatee mortality rises as pollutants kill seagrass beds | Scientific news
By BRENDAN FARRINGTON, Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Manatees have starved to death by the hundreds along Florida’s east coast because algae blooms and contaminants are killing seagrass beds that beloved marine mammals eat, said Tuesday a wildlife official on a House committee.
Seagrass beds have been decimated in the 156-mile Indian River Lagoon and surrounding areas. The aquatic plant thrives in clear, sandy waters, but more turbid waters due to algae and pollutants have made seagrass beds more difficult to survive, said Melissa Tucker, director of the Habitat and Species Conservation Division. the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Our statewide death toll from all sources has been higher than ever before,” Tucker told the House State Affairs Committee. “It’s a famine problem. There is not enough seagrass available for manatees.
Authorities have noticed a sharp increase in the number of manatee deaths from December to May, when sea cows congregate in the warm waters. During that time, 677 manatees have died, while typically only 156 die, Tucker said.
While manatee mortality stabilized after May, when mammals expand their range in summer and fall, the state recorded 968 manatee deaths in 2021, with more than two months remaining in the year. The previous annual record was 830 deaths in 2013, Tucker said.
Massive manatee mortality in recent years has been attributed to more transient events such as algal blooms and unusually cold weather, but the seagrass problem may take longer to reverse, Tucker said. Efforts are being made to replant seagrass beds and restore clam and oyster beds so the mollusks can help filter the water, she said.
“This is something that we will try to manage and improve over the years and maybe decades,” she said.
Republican state representative Thad Altman, who represents Brevard County, where manatees typically thrive, said it would be difficult to regrow seagrass unless the water was thinned. He said manatees are even now eating seagrass roots, permanently killing aquatic plants.
“We literally have disaster on our hands,” Altman said.
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