PALM BEACH, Fla. - Florida boaters killed a record number of manatees in 2018, and the state reported a near-record of manatee deaths overall.
TCPalm.com reported that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recorded 119 manatees killed by boat strikes last year, breaking the record of 106 set in 2016 and tied in 2017. Overall, 804 manatees died in Florida waters, just shy of the record 830 recorded in 2013.
Patrick Rose, the executive director of Save the Manatee Club, said on average, there are up to 500 manatee deaths a year.
"That is nearly the high record of 2013, which we believed would never be broken, so it's really a tragic year for the manatees," Rose said.
He's concerned about the rise in watercraft deaths. Rose said with more boaters enjoying the water, he's worried that number could rise.
"If you couple those things together with maybe a little less attention to watching out for manatees, those kinds of things, it's likely we're going to be seeing this increase, continue to get worse," he said.
The state said the monthslong toxic red tide algae bloom killed 91 manatees and is suspected in 118 more deaths. The algae also killed millions of fish around the state.
"Most manatees that were assigned to a specific cause of death (were) red tide this year," Rose said.
Red tide occurs naturally, but scientists believe it can be exacerbated by pollution.
The FWC says 7,500 to 10,300 manatees swim in state waters.
"It is essential to understand why manatees are dying and where they're dying and, under the circumstances, if we're going to have the best chance to save both (not only) the individual manatees, but the population as a whole," Rose said.
[Editor's note: The initial AP report said there were about 6,000 manatees living in state waters.]
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