Florida wildlife officials searching for solution after state reports 500+ manatee deaths

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.

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

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.

Read: Six entrapped manatees rescued in Brevard County

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.

READ: Manatee grazes on Florida lawn during Tropical Storm Eta

“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.

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

“They are really a unique resource, a native species, a heritage species that we really want to protect,” he said.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.