U.S. Florida: A record number of manatees have died this year in the US state of Florida, primarily from starvation due to the loss of seagrass beds, wildlife authorities say.
The manatee is a large, slow-moving mammal that has become an unofficial mascot for Florida.
Between 1 January and 2 July, at least 841 of the marine mammals died in waters near the eastern state, reported BBC. The figure breaks the previous record set in 2013 when 830 manatees died after exposure to harmful algae.
Manatees rely on seagrass beds for food, which are dying because of rising water pollution, biologists say. The root cause is the increasing waste contamination of Florida’s waterways, which triggers the accumulation of algae and the loss of seagrass.
According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, most of the deaths had happened during the colder months, when manatees migrated to the Indian River Lagoon, where most seagrass had died.
Boat strikes became a major cause of manatee deaths as temperatures warmed and the animals dispersed along the Atlantic coast, official data said. At least 63 manatees have been struck and killed by boats so far this year.
The research institute said: “Boat strikes continue to be recognised as a concern for the population.”
Lately, marine biologists and lawmakers in Florida have been investigating the deaths of manatees. In March, wildlife officials declared an Unusual Mortality Event, hence allowing the federal government to understand the cause of the deaths in co-operation with the state.
Last month a coalition of environmental groups and local businesses urged Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency to resolve the dying-manatees crisis. However, state environmental officials thought such an order was unnecessary considering the given resources.
In 2017, the federal government had changed the status of the manatee from endangered to threatened, but now conservationists say greater protection is again needed.