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Florida manatees are dying at an alarming rate, marine experts say

Water quality leaders are discussing ways to prevent manatees from dying. Right now statistics show manatees are dying at an unusual rate.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — An alarming number of manatees are continuing to starve to death in Florida water and leaders are talking about solutions.

Thursday night those with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium hosted a number of researchers and marine life experts including those with the Ocean Conservancy to figure out ways to improve water quality. 

"Manatees are really an indicator of a healthy Florida environment," J.P. Brooker, the Director of the Florida Conservation for Ocean Conservancy explained.

Currently, manatees are starving to death.

"It’s a staggering heartbreaking number for Floridians," Brooker stated.

Brooker said in just two years, the state has lost 25 percent of its manatee population. There are around 6,000 manatees in Florida. Brooker said it traces back to water quality.

"We’re putting too much stuff in the water and that’s creating a condition where manatees can’t thrive," Brooker said.

When fertilizer from your lawn or pet waste gets into the waterways, it creates nutrients that feed harmful algal blooms like red tide.

"Harmful algal blooms block the light and that kills the seagrass," Brooker stated.

Seagrass is a manatee’s main food source. Brooker said manatees need to eat about 10 percent of their body weight every day to survive.

"That’s 100 pounds per manatee," Brooker added.

With recent harmful algal blooms, manatees aren't able to eat the seagrass they need to survive because it's dying and limited.

"When we create these conditions where seagrass doesn’t get sunlight, it dies and manatees starve," Brooker stated.

FWC keeps track of how many manatees die every year in Florida. So far this year, 313 have died. 

Here's the five year breakdown:

  • 2022, there were 574 manatee deaths.
  • 2021, there were 779 manatee deaths.
  • 2020, there were 309 manatee deaths.
  • 2019, there were 276 manatee deaths.
  • 2018, there were 463 manatee deaths.

FWC reports the five-year average is 463 deaths.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium helps rescue manatees and soon they will be more involved as they are building a rescue and rehab center that is set to open in December.

"They have to be rescued and more often than not, they are starving and dying," Dr. James Powell, with Clearwater Marine Aquarium, said.

Dr. Powell met with other leaders of the Ocean Conservancy and they both underscore that people in Florida need to make it a priority to keep the waterways healthy for manatees.

"They really are an indicator of overall ecosystem health," Brooker added.

Experts said on top of being careful, when you use fertilizer, picking up your pet's waste and participating in beach cleanups can help improve our water quality. 

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