- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said manatees are dying at an unprecedented rate.
- The organization said a lack of seagrass has led to malnutrition among the manatees.
- Authorities said a number of the carcasses were “severely emaciated”, with around 40% less than their expected body weight.
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Hundreds of manatees are starving off the coast of Florida, and state officials say an ecosystem collapse could be to blame.
Preliminary state data shows that between January 1, 2021 and August 13, 2021, at least 912 manatees have died off the coast of Florida – from the annual average of 578 manatee deaths between 2015 and 2020.
While more than 500 manatees were not autopsied, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in its data that the unprecedented manatee mortality rate was likely due to famine, especially in the Indian River Lagoon. in Florida, where the lack of seagrass has led to malnutrition. among the species.
Mike Walsh, co-director of aquatic animal health at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, told the Guardian that the sea grasses of the Indian River Lagoon have been decimated by overgrazing and algal blooms that block sunlight.
Manatees still travel to the area in hopes of finding shelter in hot water, heated by tailings from the Florida Power & Light Co. reported the Orlando Sentinel.
Martine de Wit, a veterinarian who autopsies manatees for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told the Guardian that a number of lagoon carcasses were “severely emaciated,” with about 40% less than their expected body weight.
Campaigners and researchers are now starting to monitor manatees, hoping to find protection plans for future winters, Monica Ross, a researcher at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, told the Guardian.
But repairing the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem could take $ 5 billion (Rand 73.6 billion) and 20 years, said Duane De Freese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon Estuary National Program, said at Orlando Sentinel.
“We are in a well-directed start to the race,” he said. “But we have a long race to run.”