562 Florida manatees have died this year already – but a lawsuit offers hope

562 Florida manatees have died this year already – but a lawsuit offers hope

Following legal pressure from environmental groups, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has agreed to update important habitat safeguards for manatees, as the animals continue to die in record numbers.

Last year, more than 1,000 manatees perished in Florida, accounting for more than 10% of the state’s population and making it the bloodiest year on record. The imperiled mammals’ exceptionally high mortality rate has continued into 2022, with 562 deaths in the first five months.

The Indian River Lagoon on Florida’s east coast has seen an unusually high number of deaths. It supports nearly a third of all US manatees and is one of North America’s most biologically varied estuaries. Last year, more than 30% of manatee deaths happened here, with many of them due to malnutrition as a result of high levels of water pollution killing off the seagrass on which the creatures rely.

Pollution from leaking septic systems, fertilizer runoff, and wastewater treatment seeps into the lagoon, fueling algal blooms that suffocate seagrass growth.

“We’ve lost hundreds and hundreds of manatees due to malnutrition for the past two years,” said Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of Save the Manatee Club.

Lead Image: More than 1,000 manatees died in Florida last year, wiping out a tenth of the population in the state. Many of them starved after pollution killed off seagrass. Photograph: Keith Ramos/USFWS.

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