VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — Wildlife officials are trying to figure out why manatees have been dying at an alarming rate across Florida this year.
Preliminary data shows more than 500 manatees have died so far, with many those deaths happening in the Indian River Lagoon.
That’s triple the amount of deaths reported at this time last year and the year before that.
The cause of death in about 70% of those cases is still unknown. NOAA declared it an unusual mortality event.
Leaders met in Tallahassee on Monday to discuss the issue and what can be done to stop it.
The state and federal government plan to do a study to figure out exactly why manatees are dying off at this rate. But experts believe they could be starving to death because of algae blooms.
Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, a non-profit focused on protecting manatees and their habitats, said pollutants in the Indian River Lagoon from fertilizer and wastewater runoff caused algae blooms affecting the manatee’s food supply.
“We’ve got to do a much better job to keep that pollution and human waste from entering the system,” Rose said.
Jason Evans, PhD, associate professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, said the designation by NOAA should allow the government and non-profits work together on a solution.
“They are really a unique resource, a native species, a heritage species that we really want to protect,” he said.