Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

With record manatee deaths on the horizon, you can help

- Verner Wilson III lives in Fort Lauderdale. He has a bachelor’s degree in environmen­tal studies from Brown University and a master’s degree in environmen­tal management from Yale University.

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.

 ?? By Verner Wilson III ??
By Verner Wilson III

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