Between January 1 and July 2, 841 manatees died near and off the coast of Florida primarily from starvation, says Florida wildlife authorities. Florida’s previous deadliest year for manatees was 2013, when 830 manatees died. This was due to the exposure to toxins from a harmful algal bloom known as red tide.
This year biologists say seagrass beds manatees rely on for food are dying out because of rising water pollution. The contamination of Florida’s waterways has caused the accumulation of algae and the loss of seagrass.
Most of these manatees died during the colder months, when they migrated to and through the Indian River Lagoon, a group of three lagoons located southeast of Orlando, on Florida’s east coast, where most seagrass had died out.
Since 2011, persistent algal blooms have reduced the clarity of the water, which has led to less sunlight reaching the seagrass beds; seagrass, like many plants, needs sunlight to survive. Previously known threats to manatees, included boat strikes.
Manatees (Trichechus manatus) were once classified as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS). There were only a few hundred remaining in the 1970. However, due to conservation efforts, their numbers rebounded. They were upgraded to “threatened” status in 2017.