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Disappearing seagrass hurting beloved Florida manatees

A recent report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has revealed manatee deaths rising at an alarming rate.
Mote Marine Laboratories

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — Tens of thousands of acres of seagrass that is critical to the health of the Indian River Lagoon have disappeared, and the loss is affecting manatees.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that since 2009, 58% of the seagrass in the lagoon system has disappeared, choked off from sunlight as a result of an over-saturation of nutrients in the water. 

Seagrass is food for hundreds of thousands of animals, and home to even more. The loss of seagrass has been especially hard on the manatees that graze on it. 

A recent report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has revealed manatee deaths rising at an alarming rate.

In just the first two months of 2021, FWC has recorded 358 manatee deaths. It's more than half of the deaths that occurred in all of 2020 - which was 637.

When compared to the first six weeks of previous years, manatee deaths in 2021 were three times higher than the average. 

Nearly half the deaths have been reported in Brevard County, where the Indian River Lagoon is located. 

FWC has not commented on what is causing the spike, but the agency said it is investigating.

An expert who has spent 40 years studying manatees in Central Florida said dead manatees are being found with nearly nothing in their stomachs.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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