Federal legislation introduced to reclassify manatees as endangered

Record number of manatees have died in 2021

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – A record-shattering number of sea cows have died this year. According to the latest report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, more than 900 manatees have died across the state. Most of the deaths are right here in Central Florida.

Scientists and volunteers are working quickly on projects along the Indian River Lagoon to clean the water. They are trying to help the seagrass regrow so manatees have food.

Now, those organizations and local leaders are upping the efforts, introducing federal legislation, and threatening to sue the government if it doesn’t jump in to help, too.

“I joined together with Rep. Vern Buchanan for a bipartisan bill to put them back on the endangered species list,” said Rep. Darren Soto.

The Manatee Protection Act, just introduced by Soto and Buchanan, would upgrade the population from threatened to endangered. They were downgraded in 2017.

“It draws down more federal funding, it puts pressure on regulators and environmental protection agencies, not only in short term, but more pressure in the long term,” said Soto.

Local biologists back the legislation, too.

New numbers provided by Florida Fish and Wildlife show 912 manatees have died this year, compared to 412 in all of 2020 and 372 in 2019.

“We think this would right a wrong,” said Patrick Rose.

Rose is the executive director with the Save the Manatees Club.

It’s one of three nonprofit organizations that recently gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a 60-day notice that they will sue if more isn’t done to protect the animals’ habitats.

“Even though the Indian River Lagoon is part of the manatee’s designated critical habitat, the key features like the sea grasses and those kinds of things are not identified specifically,” said Rose.

Scientists said manatees are starving to death because poor water conditions are killing the seagrass they eat.

Now, just months away from winter, they’re quickly researching ways to curb this trend.

“So, we can be prepared to rescue them, even be prepared to feed them. That decision has not been made yet,” said Rose.

You can find ways to help the manatee population and Save the Manatees Club here.

About the Author:

Molly joined News 6 at the start of 2021, returning home to Central Florida.