EDGEWATER, Fla. – Manatees have been dying at alarming rates since the beginning of 2021.
The latest numbers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show 2021 has shattered manatee death records and scientists are concerned about their future.
“Manatees are a very slow reproducing species. The mother usually only has one calf at a time, she takes care of the calf for up to two years,” Cora Berchem said, a Manatee Research Associate with the Save the Manatees organization.
Berchem said manatees play a big role in Florida’s ecosystem and economy.
Tourists want to see them and they protect the mangroves which are important for anyone wanting to fish.
“All the small crustaceans and fish, need those habitats to develop at some stage in their lives,” Berchem said.
The new numbers show 841 have died this year just within the first six months. The majority are in the Indian River Lagoon with 312 in Brevard County and 62 in Volusia County. The previous record was 830, this was back in 2013.
Berchem said pollution and algae blooms are killing the seagrass manatees eat and the mammals are starving to death.
“They can’t recover from something like this in just a year or two,” she said.
She said on top of that, the pandemic put a pause on a lot of life-saving research.
“There should have been manatee health assessments, there should have been more monitoring of water quality,” she said.
Local organizations are now working quickly to clean the Indian River Lagoon.
The Riverside Conservancy out of Edgewater received a grant to build a quarter-mile of living shoreline along with it. It’s made up of native plants and oysters that serve as natural filters. They clean the water, and a small plant wall helps prevent some runoff pollution from fertilizers.
“Not only are we helping to save the upland properties here, but we’re also restoring the vegetation,” the conservancy’s executive director Kelli McGee said.
The conservancy has asked residents who own property along the water to volunteer their shoreline. They will take care of all the planting and maintenance.
Volusia County councilman Danny Robins has been working alongside them. He’s now starting a push for micro reefs to be installed under docks, too, which also filter the water.
“We’re going to do a 1,000 reef challenge and raising money. It’s going to be about $350,000 plus. We’re going to raise that privately,” he said.
If you see a manatee that looks sick, hurt, or in danger you can quickly report it to the FWC just by dialing #392 on your phone.