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More than 900 manatees have died this year in Florida

More than 900 of Florida’s manatees have died in the first seven months of this year, setting a grim new record for the beloved mammals.  Projections are expected to reach 1,200 deaths by year’s end. The previous record for manatee deaths was 830 in 2017. 

Save the Manatee Club, an organization co-founded by Jimmy Buffet and other non-profits, announced plans to sue the US Fish & Wildlife Service if something is not done.

“Florida manatees desperately need us to help them by cleaning up and protecting their habitat,” said Jacyln Lopez of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re hopeful the Biden administration will act quickly to secure protections for these gentle giants.”

According to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commision (FWC) the cause of the massive die off is a lack of sea grasses that the big mammals feed on. The problem is only going to get worse, said Patrick Rose, the executive director of Save the Manatee Club. “We’re looking at the potential of hundreds more dying from starvation.” 

While the FWC says it is uncertain how long the impacts on the manatees will persist, some proposed plans include providing supplemental food or putting the animals in shelters for the winter. 

The ongoing disaster is only the tip of the iceberg. It has been decades since manatee critical habitat was designated in 1976. Save the Manatee Club and other non-profits petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to reassess and update its critical habitat designation in 2008, but the agency found a reassessment unwarranted. 

“Tragically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service minimized the need to update the manatees’ critical habitat and instead proceeded to remove manatees from the list of endangered species despite years of catastrophic seagrass losses in the Indian River Lagoon,” said Rose. 

This means that the current tragedy could have been somewhat mitigated. But according to Elizabeth Fleming of Defenders of Wildlife, it’s not too late to create a better future for the manatees with some help from the Biden administration.

“Manatees are taking hits from every direction, whether it’s loss of warm water habitat, lack of food, vessel strikes, entanglement in marine debris, entrapment in water control structures, harassment and other threats,” said Fleming.

“By revising the outdated 1976 critical habitat designation, the Biden administration can help secure additional protection for habitat that is essential to manatee survival.”

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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