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Record-breaking manatee deaths: Experts say we can expect it to get worse

841 manatees have died in Florida this year. Experts say many are starving to death.
Credit: AP
FILE - A Manatee swims at Blue Springs State Park in Orange City, Fla., in this Jan. 5, 2006 file photo. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016 Florida's manatee population has recovered enough that the species no longer meets the definition of "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

TAMPA, Fla. — In Florida, manatees are dying by the hundreds. Experts say we can expect it to get worse before it gets better.

The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) reports 841 manatees have died in the first half of 2021. That number is more than the Sunshine State's total number for any other year.

Dr. James Powell is the Executive Director at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. He said the cause for the spike in deaths: manatees are starving to death. 

"What we've seen is a degradation to their habitat on the east coast of Florida as a consequence of algal blooms," said Powell. "Those algal blooms have shut the light off from the water. The seagrass needs light to grow. So what's happening is manatees go to find warm water. When they go there, they aren't finding any food. So, they're starving."

Powell said situations like this worsen far quicker than they recover.

"We're expecting another bad year next year," he said. "It's going to be very important for everyone to try to work together to try to improve the water quality over on the east coast, and also here on the west coast."

On the west coast of Florida, Powell said red tide is also killing off manatees. And across the state, a portion of manatee deaths can be attributed to boaters. FWC is asking boat drivers to be mindful of the speed limits and keep an eye on what's in the waters in front of them. There have been 63 watercraft-related manatee deaths so far this year.

If you see a sick, injured, dead, tagged, orphaned, or distressed manatee, you're asked to report it to FWC.

To report, call 888-404-FWCC(3922). You may also use #FWC or *FWC from your cell phone.


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