Merritt Island park now a ‘manatee graveyard’ as Florida sea cows starve to death

‘They are severely emaciated,’ FWC veterinarian says

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – Scientists say Florida’s most enamored marine mammal is starving to death, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.

On a recent Saturday, the Stasiks witnessed the famine in real time along the banks of Manatee Cove Park. The paradise they once padded through in this remote, mangrove-lined cove now looks lost — like an elephant graveyard. Except it’s manatee bones that litter the shoreline, not tusks.

Amid the bones lie the remains of a few other gentle marine giants, surrounded by vultures. The 13 carcasses the Stasiks recently counted there represent just one flashpoint in a much larger die off of Florida’s best-known and beloved marine mammal this year, especially in the Indian River Lagoon.

“This is the worst that I’ve ever seen,” Phil Stasik, of Merritt Island, said via email.

At least 403 manatees have died in Florida so far in 2021, four times the five-year average up to this point in the year, according to state wildlife officials. That includes 169 dead manatees (42%) in Brevard County.

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Cold stress accounts for at least 39 of the deaths, or about 10%. For 277 others, almost 70%, the cause is unknown. Because of COVID-19 rules, a state lab tasked with examining dead manatees has only been able to salvage and examine 30% of the remains. So they’re left to rot in places like the small spit of land off Manatee Cove. Watercraft collisions have killed only 14 so far this year, but typically account for about a quarter of manatee deaths.

Biologist suspect the sea cows are starving to death as the marine mammal’s main diet of seagrass wilts under ongoing years-long ecological collapse, driven by excess algae.