The number of manatee deaths in the last twelve years is equal to the current population

The 7,444 manatee deaths recorded in Florida over the past twelve years almost match the number thought to survive today.

In 2010, state officials recorded 766 deaths, surpassing 500 in a year for the first time since records began nearly 50 years ago. Since then, most years have seen numbers above 500, including last year’s record high of 1,101.

So far this year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has reported 661 deaths, already marking the fourth deadliest year on record.

Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, said the accelerating mortality statistics are concerning in light of the manatee’s deadly enemies that remain far from resolved: vulnerability to cold, deadly red tides, boat strikes and starvation.

As governments step up efforts to restore the environments that manatees depend on, Florida’s growth promises to reverse the gains, Rose said.

“We are going to see more and more adverse consequences on our aquatic ecosystems,” he said. “They all gather.”

Having not done a rigorous count in many years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission currently estimates the state’s manatee population to be at least 7,520 animals.

Currently the most closely monitored indicator for the species’ well-being is the extent of seagrass growth, which is most vigorous from May to this month.

The St. Johns River Water Management District, a regional state agency that regulates and monitors water resources in central and northern Florida, recently completed its summer mapping of seagrass beds in the lagoon. of Indian River along the east coast of the state.

Encompassing a complex of water bodies from Volusia counties to Martin counties, central Florida has experienced prolonged biological collapse due to pollution, resulting in the extermination of once lush seagrass that manatees depend on like main source of food.

This depletion of vegetation caused mass deaths in Brevard County and an emergency response by the state wildlife agency, giving 100 tons of lettuce to the manatees.

Data from the mapping, which examines locations established year after year, is not yet finalized, said Water District senior scientist Chuck Jacoby.

Preliminary results suggest some glimmers of hope for seagrass recovery, Jacoby said, particularly in shallow waters where more sunlight can penetrate to nurture growth.

Jacoby said just as it took years of degradation to bring about the current state of the lagoon, reviving the coastal system will take a sustained effort.

He said recent, modest signs of seagrass rebound could be partly due to relatively clear lagoon waters this summer. The water district measures the footprint of where seagrasses are present and the density or cover within the footprint.

“I think with several years of good water clarity, we would potentially see an increase in footprint and coverage,” Jacoby said. “A year won’t get you there. Two years is useful. Maybe three to five would give us some confidence to say that’s a substantial change.

recent news

recent news

As it happens

Be the first to know with email alerts on the latest important news from the Orlando Sentinel Newsroom.

With years waiting for significant improvement in manatee habitat, the status quo for the species is gloomier than “the bare numbers” reveal, said Elise Pautler Bennett, Florida director and the Center’s senior counsel. for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.

“The true impact on the manatee population is likely even greater than the shocking number of deaths we’re seeing,” Bennett said. “For every recorded death, there is an unknown number of manatees that are sick or dead and simply have not been found. is reduced, as well as orphaned manatees.

Rose said the state is accelerating environmental restoration and response capabilities to stricken manatees, but the overall effort is only a fraction of what is needed.

“They all help make a difference to help us feel better,” Rose said. “The real real hope is that we need to improve water quality.”

Getting there, he said, will require a commitment to match what the nation has undertaken to review the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay.

“Otherwise, we’re going to have to keep hoping and praying,” Rose said.

[email protected]