State wildlife officials are seeking nearly $7 million from lawmakers as they scramble to address a record year of manatee deaths in Florida’s degraded waters.
Gil McRae, director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said Wednesday the request for money is also part of long-term goals to rebuild seagrass beds and wean manatees from artificial warm-water sites, including areas near power plants, that attract the sea cows in winter months.
The state is approaching 1,000 manatee deaths this year, from a population estimated around 8,800, with a large number of the deaths linked to poor water quality along the East Coast.
The main cause of the deaths has been starvation, as seagrass beds that are prime foraging areas for manatees in the Indian River Lagoon have declined because of repeated algae blooms over the past decade. The state estimates that 58 percent of the seagrasses have been lost in the northern Indian River Lagoon.
“We know we’re likely going to have a challenge with this particular issue in the Indian River Lagoon for a number of years,” McRae said.
Lawmakers will consider the request for money during the 2022 legislative session, which will start in January. The current budget includes $8 million to improve manatee habitat and access to Florida’s natural springs. The commission has five years to use the money.
Efforts to restore aquatic vegetation are underway near springs along the St. Johns River and at Blue Spring State Park.
Speaking to the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, McRae praised the direction of $53 million into 13 water-quality improvement projects announced last month by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The projects include eliminating more than 3,000 septic tanks and upgrading three wastewater treatment facilities.
“Its main goal is to reduce that nitrogen loading into the (Indian River) lagoon,” McRae said. “That’s the real water quality issue that needs to be addressed.”
McRae noted that if the state can “get the water quality right” in areas with some seagrasses, the beds “will come back on their own because that’s what they do.”
In the new funding request, the commission is asking for $3 million to restore and enhance lakes, rivers, springs and estuarine habitats and $2.95 million to expand the Manatee Critical Care Network. Another $717,767 is being sought to increase manatee-rescue efforts, a request that includes two full-time positions.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried recently asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list threatened manatees as “endangered,” describing as “misguided” a March 2017 decision to reclassify manatees as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2022, said manatees continue to face the same perils as when they were previously listed as endangered: degradation of habitat, growing impacts of climate change, pollution, speeding boats, seagrass loss and declining water quality.
The federal agency in 2017 pointed to an increase in the manatee population and habitat improvements because of conservation efforts by Florida, Puerto Rico, Caribbean nations and public and private organizations. Until that time, manatees had been listed as endangered for a half century.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
What a shame
Gina Weiss says
The Manatees should have never been downlisted from endangered to threatened in the first place. Just look at what is happening with overfishing in our oceans, climate change, more and more people in our waterways with their speedboat toys and disrespecting speed zones in areas which designate the presence of dolphns and manatees. The Fish and Wildlife Services weakened the Manatees protection in 2017 as outdated wrong data was used in their reclassification. It’s ashame if Florida’s official marine mammal resdents, these gentle beloved giants becomes extinct, they will be lost forever. Those public and private corporations had alot to do with the reclassification again for profit as they wanted to get more boats in our waterways and again make their blood money and lie to the public, another great American white lie just like Columbus discovered America.
No doubts that recreational power boats destroy seagrass. As a long term sailboater and kayaker I have seen the multiple propellor scars in the seagrass all over the Florida Keys and in the Indian River north of Stuart.
One problem is that many powerboaters feel the need to run at high speed wherever they go. A modern bass boat or flats boat can run at 50 mph in 3ft of water with a sea bottom scouring propwash that can devastate seagfass.
But there’s anothwr less obvious culprit, Florida’s obsession with a green grass lawns in front of every home. In municipalities like Palm Coast it’s mandated.
Grass lawns are high maintenance ground cover, demanding regular applications of insecticide and fertilizer and even dyes to keep that year round green. In Florida’s frequent heavy rains these chemicals run off into the storm drains and in coastal areas the storm drains discharge, unfiltered, into the waterways and lagoons.
Your lovely green lawn is polluring our waterways, helping to create algae, kill seagrass and manatees.
Gina Weiss says
Hi Paul, I’m glad we agree upon the powerboats and I do know that there are numerous other issues like people’s lust for green lawns, on my front lawn which is not much I just have mine cut and let nature do the rest with watering and I do have a insect control company which comes around every third month which treats the lawn for red ants, I try to do my best but I am not fanatical about having my lawn greener than my neighbors as there are other important things in life. Maybe the EPA can come up with some kind of natural substance to treat lawns that would be less harmful than those you describe.
The growth in FL is going to continue towards this. Another thing, all these gasoline & diesel fueled, propeller driven boats, those boaters are not only going to add to the pollution, but they may injure & kill manatees for being ignorant of the manatee/no wake zones. The solution is fewer people obviously engaging in boating, that and slow the growth for the sewage issue. 2 things I don’t see happening in Flagler county anytime soon, apartments, duplex & other homes, storage marinas & boat builders. Just connecting the dots for the Biden-Harris types that want to leverage environmental impact & illegal immigration with the future of America. I don’t doubt when this solution-less problem reaches critical mass, we all know who will be complaining about it that day. And their concerns will be catered to as usual that day, when they are the grossest offenders of the overpopulation they create.
Horrible, humans are destroying our wild life and sea creatures.
What is DeSantis doing about the pollution in our waterways? Last I heard he is still the Governor for the moment.