Florida manatee population hit hard in 2021 with 1,101 reported deaths

Florida's threatened and protected manatees have died in record numbers in 2021 with state wildlife officials reporting a total of 1,101 deaths. That figure is roughly double the average annual number of manatee deaths in recent years.

It's a near 60% increase in deaths over the 3-year average. While the majority of deaths occurred on the east coast, Boca Ciega Bay was the location with the fourth-most manatee deaths in the state.

Last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported 637 deaths. The deaths in 2021 are estimated to be about one-sixth of the manatees left in southeastern U.S. waters and in Puerto Rico. FWC reports 103 deaths were caused by boat collisions, 184 are said to have died from natural causes, but more than half of deceased manatees were never necropsied according to FWC data, Biologists have previously said the cause of death for most was starvation.

The depleted food supply is most apparent in the Indian River Lagoon, which is where harmful algae blooms have killed at least 95% of the seagrass. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began providing supplemental food to malnourished manatees in that area.

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"Those algae blooms are created because there’s excess nutrients in the water that has come from human waste, whether it’s from leaking septic tanks or untreated wastewater or even runoff from fertilizers," said Dr. Patrick Rose, the executive director of the Save the Manatees Club.

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"To see manatees in the hundreds starving to death should be a very clear signal to anyone paying attention that our water quality is in crisis," said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with FWC approved a joint plan allowing for the supplemental feeding of malnourished manatees in the Indian River Lagoon.

In 2017, manatees were upgraded from an "endangered" designation to "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act, with FWS pointing to an increase in the manatee population and habitat improvements because of conservation efforts by Florida, Puerto Rico, Caribbean nations and public and private organizations.

A proposed bill would reclassify the manatees as an endangered species.