Florida Commissioner Suggests Killing Manatees Could Help Save Marine Species

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A Brevard County Commissioner is facing intense criticism from Navy advocates after suggesting allowing people to kill manatees as a way to control their population – similar to deer hunting and bears in some states – and to protect seagrass beds, a vital food source for marine species.

Commissioner Curt Smith made the remarks last week at a meeting of county commissioners as a potential solution to protect marine animals after 1,000 manatees are believed to have starved to death in 2021 due to declining seagrass beds, setting a grim record (830 died in 2013, 637 died in 2020, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).

The comments left marine and manatee advocates stunned.

“I was absolutely serious. I was serious. This is something that needs to be looked at. And we need the people of this state to do just that,” Commissioner Smith said, when addressing at FOX 35 News on Thursday.

Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. Harassing, harming, or killing a manatee can result in state and/or federal penalties, including fines and/or jail time.

“It’s absolutely disgusting,” said Stel Bailey, an environmentalist.

Activists have said the main reason for the seagrass decline is pollution, climate change and algal blooms.

Tama, a Blue Springs State Park manatee, was found unconscious two weeks ago in the park and has died. Lawyers said the otherwise healthy sea cow ate fishing line.

“They’re not addressing the source of the pollution. They’re just diverting attention from the real root causes of the problem, which is the pollution in the Indian River Lagoon,” Bailey said.

One thing wildlife officials learned during the experimental winter feeding program to help manatees avoid starvation is that if you feed them, they will come.

The manatees ate almost all of the 160,000 pounds (72,500 kilograms) of lettuce provided at the site of a hot-water power plant where manatees typically congregate during cold months, officials said last week.

“They ate all the leftover food we took out,” said Scott Calleson of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

It was unclear whether the manatees would eat the lettuce when the unprecedented program began in December. But officials said since January 20, the slow-moving sea mammals have been feasting on food made necessary after more than 1,100 manatees died largely of starvation last year, the worst year on record for the species. threatened.

“The conservationists who have tried to drive up the manatee population are almost victims of their own situation because they have been too successful,” Smith added.

As of March 11 this year, around 420 manatee deaths had been confirmed, still an alarming number.

More than 7,500 manatees live in Florida waters. Although they are federally listed as an endangered species, efforts are being made to give them the increased designation of endangered.

“I love manatees. Everyone loves manatees. In 2000 there were only 2,000 manatees. Now there are about 8,000. How many are enough?”

Anyone who sees a distressed or dead manatee should call the FWC Wildlife Hotline at 888-404-3922.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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