New data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) shows the dire situation facing the state's manatees.
Throughout 2021 Florida manatees have struggled with famine caused by the loss of the marine mammal's seagrass habitat. As of May 14, the state had recorded 739 manatee deaths, a figure dangerously close to Flordia's devastating 2013 record of 830 manatee deaths in one year.
Unfortunately, Florida recently surpassed this record. According to the FWC, between January 1 and July 2 of this year, 841 manatees died, beating 2013's annual record in just six months. This number is especially startling when compared to last year's numbers. In 2020, Florida reported 354 manatee deaths for the entire year, reports CNN.
"Unprecedented manatee mortality due to starvation was documented on the Atlantic coast this past winter and spring," Florida's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute said in a statement obtained by NPR. "Most deaths occurred during the colder months when manatees migrated to and through the Indian River Lagoon, where the majority of seagrass has died off."
NPR added that half of 2021's Florida manatee deaths occurred at Indian River Lagoon and the surrounding areas. The spot is a popular winter destination for Florida's manatees, thanks, in part, to its 150 miles of seagrass. Over time, the lagoon has become increasingly polluted, leading to the death of 60 percent of the estuary's seagrass, which Florida manatees depend on to stay satiated during the colder months. Florida manatees are also impacted by boat strikes, which result in more than 20% of manatee deaths, per CNN.
This staggering number of manatee deaths has experts concerned that Florida's manatee population of roughly 6,300 animals, according to the NPR, could dwindle to near extinction levels.