DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s a troubling trend for Florida’s sea cows that are dying off at an alarming rate.
Hundreds of deaths have been recorded in Central Florida. Already this year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it’s recorded more than 780 deaths.
The tragedy has grown so large at this point that it’s now involving agencies that never thought this would be part of their day-to-day job, like Daytona Beach Police Department’s marine unit.
Officer Nick Gurucharri is on the water every day. He has been helping FWC with manatee removals so biologists can find out why they’re dying.
“I had no idea I was going to be assisting with that,” he said.
He said the first call came in March to help with one that was about 1,500 pounds.
“Once she did the measurements, she came back and said, ‘This mammal is approximately 500 pounds underweight,’” he said.
He’s since helped remove close to a dozen just on the Halifax River, on top of handling other manatee-related calls.
“Based on some of the necropsies they had performed, these manatees were essentially starving to death, which was quite sad,” Gurucharri said.
FWC data shows 782 manatees have died so far this year in Florida. Of those, 306 have been in Brevard County, 56 were in Volusia County and 10 were in Flagler County.
The majority locally were in the 156-mile Indian River Lagoon.
Biologists said the water quality could be to blame.
“Lawn fertilizers and pesticides that get in storm water runoff end up in the river to some degree and those substances kill the seagrass beds that manatees feed off of,” Gurucharri said.
Local organizations are adding living shorelines and micro reefs that supply nutrients to boost grass growth.
Brevard and Volusia counties ban fertilizer use in the summer. During the other months, it’s asked you only use it when lawns show need and never before it rains.
“This is their home. This isn’t our home, it’s our recreation area,” Gurucharri said.
Scientists estimate 58% of the seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon has decreased since 2009.