PONCE INLET, Fla. – It’s been a record shattering year for manatee deaths in Florida. More than 900 have died so far in 2021, according to the latest data from Florida Fish and Wildlife. Most of the deaths are happening in Central Florida in the Indian River Lagoon and researchers, and now county leaders, are scrambling to save them.
In Ponce de Leon Inlet on Wednesday, Volusia County leaders dove near the jetty to collect hundreds of pounds of cut-off fishing line.
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“Fishing line takes hundreds of years to decompose in the marine environment,” said Debbie Wright, the manager of the county’s Manatee Protection Program.
Part of their work is cleaning the waters that lead to the Indian River Lagoon.
“We’re going to stop it from moving to other areas where potentially we could see entanglements in our marine mammals, sea turtles, and birds,” she said.
It’s one of the county’s projects to clean up the local waters.
“We have things in place like our fertilizer ordinances and just trying to get people to do checks on their septic systems and make sure what we’re doing isn’t affecting the water ways even more,” she said.
Volusia leaders have also installed micro reefs under docks and are helping organizations build living shorelines to filter runoff water filled with chemicals, such as fertilizer.
“Our goal is just to leave this place a little bit better,” said county Councilman Danny Robins, who also took part in the dive Wednesday.
Robins said the county also just released $25,000 for a grant to purchase clams to filter the lagoon’s water.
“In Southeast Volusia, we purchased about 700,000 clams. We’re looking to get a match for that and bring it up to about 1.4 or 1.5 million. It adds to water quality.” he said.
Florida Fish and Wildlife says 937 manatees have died so far this year in the state - compare that to 435 last year and 390 in 2019.
“It’s one of those topics that affects everybody,” Robins said.