The manatees are beloved in Florida. We have a strong bond with the lovable sea cows. Protecting them is important to all of us.
Pollution-fueled algae blooms have sparked an ongoing mortality event that has contributed to unprecedented Florida manatee mortality approaching 2,000 deaths in 2021 and 2022 combined. This two-year record represents more than 20 percent of all manatees in Florida. Manatee experts predict more malnourished and starving manatees with fewer births for years to come, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Unchecked pollution — from wastewater treatment discharges, leaking septic systems, fertilizer runoff and other sources — is fueling the collapse of the Indian River Lagoon, leading to the unprecedented mortality event. A recent study also found more than half of sampled Florida manatees are chronically exposed to glyphosate, a potent herbicide applied to sugarcane and aquatic weeds. Discharges from Lake Okeechobee containing glyphosate have also resulted in higher concentrations of glyphosate in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
Originally listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, manatees have never truly recovered. The Fish and Wildlife Service announced its final rule downlisting the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened on March 30, 2017, despite hundreds of manatees still dying each year from boat strikes, habitat loss and other causes.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed two 90-day findings on Endangered Species Act petitions to uplist the West Indian manatee and the Puerto Rican population of the Antillean manatee.
It is the first procedural step toward providing much greater protections for the imperiled species. The Fish and Wildlife Service must now conduct a thorough review of the best available science before determining whether to increase protections under the Endangered Species Act. A final protection decision is due by Nov. 21.