Monitoring manatees: Record number of volunteers join sea cow watch, more needed

Volunteers are trained to check for issues, report their findings

DELAND, Fla. – Central Florida wildlife researchers are asking for your help keeping an eye on manatees. Over the last year, the sea cows have been dying at alarming rates and Florida Fish and Wildlife says the numbers are still climbing.

One of the ways the researchers keep track of it in Volusia County is through the Manatee Watch program.

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“They are such a peaceful and lovely animal,” said Wayne Hartley, a manatee watcher for the county and Save the Manatee Club researcher. “The manatees have really been in the news. It’s terrible what’s going on in the Indian River.”

It’s what’s happening in the Indian River Lagoon in Volusia and down into Brevard County that makes the volunteers even more important this year for researchers with the county.

“Our manatee watchers are trained to document scar patterns, to photograph the animal and to document what their behaviors are,” said Debbie Wright, the Manatee Protection director for Volusia.

The FWC has reported that the animals are dying at record rates because most are starving to death. Biologists estimate almost 90 percent of the seagrass they eat in the lagoon has been killed off by pollutants like fertilizer.

In all of 2021, 1,101 died in Florida, which is almost double the previous two years. The latest data this year shows through January 28, 97 have died. During the same time last year, 170 died.

“(Volunteers are) trained to look out for any sick, injured, or orphaned manatees,” said Wright.

The volunteers take that data and upload it for the researchers, or if the animal is in dire need of help, call in rescuers.

This year, the county has a record number of volunteers keeping an eye out, too.

“Typically we get maybe about 60 new trained people every year. This year we’re way over 100,” said Wright.

Though they do have a record number of volunteers already this year, they’re always looking for more. If you’re interested you can find information on the Volusia County website.

Not in Volusia County? We have a list of other ways you can help manatee conservation.

About the Author:

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