The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have reported that, “As of May 21, at least 749 manatees have died in Florida in 2021.”
Greetings to you! In this blog, I’m sorry to report to you that Florida is on track to set a new sobering record for manatee deaths this year. While it’s true, manatees are survivors and add to that, the population has been increasing to approximately 7,500, there are now some extremely serious threats to this marine mammal.
First, let’s talk about some important manatee facts …
· Manatees are warm-blooded and need water temperatures of at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Hence, they are tropical and enjoy Florida and Caribbean waters.
· Manatees are herbivores (plant-eating) and need to eat at least 10% of their bodyweight daily to survive. The average Florida manatee weighs about 1,000 pounds. As a result, each manatee needs to eat about 100 pounds of plants per day!
· Seagrass is the manatee’s main diet source.
· Despite their big and bulky size, manatees have very little body fat!
· Manatees are marine mammals, meaning they live in the water and breathe air.
· Manatees need surface for air every 5 minutes and during sleep, they naturally surface for air every 20 minutes.
So why has 2021 been so Deadly for the Manatee?
For several decades now, watercraft have been hitting and/or killing manatees as they surface for air. And Florida is now the third most populous state in the nation. As more and more people move to Florida, more and more watercraft are out in the water. The result? More and more manatees are getting hit. In fact, there are so many watercraft strikes on the Florida manatee, scientists actually use their skin scar patterns resulting from the propellers to identify each mammal.
However, in recent years in addition to watercraft strikes, more serious threats are killing the manatee. Toxic algae has been infesting the Florida waters more and more. As the effects of climate change from increasing greenhouse gases (CO2), warm the water and nitrogen fertilizer run-offs find their way into the Gulf of Mexico from human habit, these factors fuel the rapid growth of toxic algae, which scientists call harmful algal blooms or HABs. Some of these HABs can paint the waters a deep red color. This out-of-control red colored algae growth is known a red tide. Red tide cell culprits are known is the science world as Karenia brevis.
NOAA explains that red tide is very dangerous, “The toxins may also make the surrounding air difficult to breathe. As the name suggests, the bloom of algae often turns the water red. HABs have been reported in every U.S. coastal state, and their occurrence may be on the rise. HABs are a national concern because they affect not only the health of people and marine ecosystems, but also the ‘health’ of local and regional economies.”
As this environmental stress increasingly affects the manatee, the result has been devasting with “one of the worst manatee die-offs in recent history.” The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have reported that, “As of May 21, at least 749 manatees have died in Florida in 2021.” It is so severe that the commission has called this, “an unusual mortality event or UME.”
Mr. Patrick Rose, Executive Director of the Save the Manatee Club co-founded by singer Jimmy Buffet said, “Manatees are literally that sentinel species. They’re warning us of what else is going to come if we don’t do a better job while there’s still time to do something about it. If we don’t, our own lives will suffer.”
Help children learn more about climate change and manatees by reading the award-winning Kobee Manatee® Educational Picture Book series! There is a new fourth installment of the series coming out in September 2021. It’s titled, Kobee Manatee® Climate Change and The Great Blue Hole Hazard. This [Book 4] of the series teaches children all about climate change and plastic pollution with Dr. Tracy Fanara.