Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
With record manatee deaths on the horizon, you can help
As an Alaskan now in Florida, I have come to appreciate this beautiful state. But knowing that Florida’s 1975-designated state marine mammal is dying at an unprecedented rate this year, I’m concerned about our impacts on the serene sea cow — a national treasure. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, we are well on the way to see a record 10% or more of Florida’s approximate 6,500 manatees perish in 2021, and it is only spring.
There are many factors to blame. Increased marine traffic, such as large cruise ships and recreational boating, not only directly causes manatee mortalities through strikes, but also causes noise disturbances. Other factors include human-caused climate change and pollution. Manatees have died from starvation and cold-water stress this year, which they are prone to when they are not able to feed. Pollution from agriculture and runoff from sewage and lawn fertilizer is causing algal blooms that choke off seagrasses that manatees need. Last year was a record hurricane season in the U.S., stranding some manatees desperate to get back in the open water. Climate change may bring even stronger, deadlier and more frequent storms and stormwater events that bring land pollution into manatee habitat.
Floridians have an important voice to help save America’s sea cows. You can pressure your elected officials to urge the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service to redesignate the manatee as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This is the highest level of protection, which can dedicate more research money for Florida and give more tools to experts such as by designating critical habitat.
You can urge your leaders to increase local, state and national funding into manatee research, especially during the current congressional and state legislative sessions. You can also encourage your leaders to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen its enforcement of the Clean Water Act and reduce pollution. EPA is now in the process of understanding the impacts of glyphosate, a pesticide pollutant found in nearly three out of five dead manatees this year.
Further, you can urge leaders to increase international cooperation for manatee research with other nations and states in the manatee’s range. More collaboration between members of the public and stakeholders such as marine businesses can encourage use of modern technologies to understand more about the sea cow’s plight. Satellite radar, drones and individual phone apps are increasing communications between people, but can also reduce boating strikes and increase monitoring and enforcement of rules for manatee protection.
We can possibly grow more seagrasses to feed starving manatees through marine agriculture. We can also reduce manatees’ cold stress by increasing renewable clean energy generation to power plants known to warm nearby waters in the winter. This can help reduce climate change pollution while saving manatee lives and creating jobs.
Alaska used to have a cousin of the manatees: Steller’s Sea Cow. But overhunting caused their extinction. That cannot happen to the manatee, as we have the knowledge and tools to save them. This is not just about saving the manatees. It is also about saving future generations from the damages we are currently causing to our only earth. Manatees, and ultimately us, can thrive in a healthier world.