Rise in manatee deaths stemming from unhealthy environment after Hurricane Ian

Cold weather and no food could be what’s killing Florida’s beloved sea cows. It’s only January and FWC is counting at least 45 manatee deaths. That is nearly double last year’s numbers at this time.  

 “45 deaths? Just in January? That seems pretty high and alarming actually,” said Michael Tosca. He was taking photos of manatees at Manatee Park Tuesday. He said he noticed a big difference in manatees swimming in the park from years past.  

“There was a lot more then. Definitely a lot more,” he said. “It’s pretty tragic.”

An upsetting photo of a dead manatee in North Fort Myers. Another dead manatee was spotted at Bunche Beach over the weekend.

We spoke to James Douglass, a professor with the Water School at FGCU, to gain a better understanding of the influx in mortalities. 

“Our waters around here have some problems with chronic pollution, and of course, that was exacerbated by Hurricane Ian… and we are still seeing some after-effects of Hurricane Ian, as far as some stirred up waters and changes in the sea bottom life,” Douglass said. 

He said the loss of seagrass, which is a manatee’s main food source, combined with cold water temperatures aren’t helping manatees survive. 

“Manatees are a beloved species, so seeing the manatees die breaks my heart like it does everyone… and it’s just a general indication that the environment isn’t as healthy as it could be in Florida,” Douglass said.

In 2021, Florida had a record-breaking number of manatee deaths, topping 1000 mortalities. Last year, numbers were still high, with 800 manatee deaths. 

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Florida annual manatee death record broken in first six months of 2021

Douglass said if we could reduce the amount of nutrients in the water, we could save more manatees.

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