Record manatee deaths connected to sewage, pollution, food scarcity
Manatees, young and old, are falling victim to a massive sea grass die off, which is their preferred food. Also, pollution from excessive amounts of sewage, animal waste and fertilizer runoff, which is damaging to Florida’s various wildlife-sustaining ecosystems, is suspected of killing unprecedented numbers of long-endangered manatees.
According to information from SaveTheManatee.org, 2013 has been the deadliest year for manatees, with a loss of 770 of the gentle sea cows in almost a decade of annually declining numbers. Boat strikes have been a big factor in the past, but for several years toxic algae blooms, red tide and disproportionate pollution seem to be driving the record deaths.
Moreover, the highly biodiverse Indian River Lagoon near Orlando was hit with huge algae outbreaks that appeared to be connected to hundreds of dead marine life, including fish, pelicans, dolphins and manatees. Biologists reported the pelicans were emaciated and full of parasites.
Environmental reporter Craig Pittman for the Tampa Bay Times explained in an article that algae blooms killed 31,000 acres of sea grass along the lagoon in the past two years, which forced manatees to eat unhealthy alternatives, including large amounts of macroalgae and polluted seaweed.
Stomachs of dead manatees were found to be full of “reddish seaweed they don’t normally eat.”
“A big part of it is that there's just not that much left for them to feed on," said manatee biologist Pat Rose. "The system is way out of balance. What we put into our waters, how much we pump from our aquifer and draw from our springs and rivers, together with how we use our waterways, all has an impact on our own lives and the lives of every aquatic species. We must be better stewards of our waters and waterways or suffer even more severe consequences going forward.”
Last year amid the spiraling population of manatees, which have dropped by 15 percent from the estimated 5,000 remaining animals, Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) filed a petition with the US Fish and Wildlife Service seeking to strip manatees of their protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by requesting they be lowered to “threatened” status.
Conservation groups called the PLF action “ludicrous.” Manatees are considered intelligent beings with task-learning abilities similar to dolphins, but they are slow to repopulate. Breeding only occurs every two years and the females have a 12 month gestation before giving birth.
Earthjustice.org is challenging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action using the Clean Water Act, since Florida environmental regulators seem concerned only with appeasing corporate polluters and lobbyists.
Environmentalists believe that complacency regarding private sources and commercial operations that sidestep best management practices resulting in sewage, manure and other chemical runoff, which ultimately ends up polluting healthy waterways and wildlife ecosystems, is deplorable on every level and must be stopped.
The World Conservation Union lists all three species of manatee as “vulnerable to extinction.”
To find out what you can do to help visit SaveTheManatee.org website.
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