‘A possibility of extinction’: Manatees dying at unprecedented rate in Florida

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — For months, hundreds of manatees have been dying at an unprecedented rate across Florida’s waterways.

Florida Fish and Wildlife said it’s investigating, but needs more help. That’s why a local lawmaker is now urging a federal investigation and funding.

At the lagoon house of the Marine Resources Council in Palm Bay, executive director Dr. Leesa Souto and staff work to protect water quality in the Indian River lagoon.

Read: Six entrapped manatees rescued in Brevard County

She has seen a combination of cold stress from winter and diminishing seagrass causing manatees to die at an average of 20 a week in Brevard County.

“Not a blade of seagrass to be found,” Souto said. “That’s their primary food source, so they’re starving.”

See 9 facts about manatees below:

Since Jan. 1, 432 manatees have died along Florida’s waterways, including 180 in Brevard County.

READ: Manatee grazes on Florida lawn during Tropical Storm Eta

That’s already more than what died in the county all of last year, and 70% of the 637 overall in 2020.

That’s why Florida Fish and Wildlife wants the die-off of protected animals to have a special designation, known as an unusual mortality event.

Doing so opens a federal investigation and provides needed funding.

READ: Manatee found with ‘Trump’ scraped on its back

Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy has taken that request to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Marine Resources Council is pushing the state to improve lagoon waters, which will save the manatees’ critical food source – and hopefully before Souto’s worst fears come true.

“We’re looking at a possibility of extinction in the lagoon by the end of 2021,” she said.

READ: More than a dozen sick sea turtles rescued, receiving treatment at Brevard Zoo

Also in Brevard County, the Sea Turtle Healing Center at the Brevard Zoo is nursing some very sick turtles back to health that were found stranded along the shore earlier this week. See the full story below:

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.