Florida manatees dying in record numbers

U.S. -

Scientists in Florida are working to protect the state's endangered manatees from an unprecedented algae bloom that has killed a record number of the animals this year.

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Source: upload.wikimedia.org
Source: upload.wikimedia.org
As Florida's "Manatee Awareness Month" kicks off in November, environmental groups report a record 769 manatee deaths so far in 2013 -- an average of two per day over the past ten months. Experts said 126 of the 2013 deaths have been calves. Source: www.flickr.com

As Florida's "Manatee Awareness Month" kicks off in November, environmental groups report a record 769 manatee deaths so far in 2013 -- an average of two per day over the past ten months. Experts said 126 of the 2013 deaths have been calves.

Many of the manatees are falling victim to an algae bloom known as Florida Red Tide, a natural concentration of microscopic organisms that turn the water red or brown. Large blooms occur in the state every year, but the 2013 bloom settled along a 70-mile stretch where manatees migrate.

"What we put into our waters, how much we pump from our aquifer and draw from our springs and rivers, together with how we use our waterways, all has an impact on our own lives and the lives of every aquatic species." Patrick Rose, aquatic biologist and Save the Manatee Club executive director

Conservation groups said the previous record for manatee deaths was set in 2010, when 766 of the animals died, but that was from stress caused by an unusually cold winter.

Indian River Lagoon, Florida

A mass death event in Florida's Indian River Lagoon saw 111 manatees die, along with 47,000 acres of sea grass and dozens of other animals. In an effort to reduce the state's budget, Gov. Rick Scott cut $2 million to fund research into the deaths, saying "not all projects demonstrate an ability to contribute to a statewide investment."

"[The algae bloom] kind of filled in an area where [manatees] congregated and are feeding on sea grass where the toxins settle on." Kevin Baxter, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Algae toxins impact the central nervous system of manatees, causing seizures and paralysis, eventually drowning the animals. Officials reported rescuing 12 sick manatees in March.

Manatees gained protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. While boat accidents remain the leading killer of manatees in Florida, conservation efforts have helped the population rebound in recent years, and there are now about 5,000 manatees thought to live in Florida waters.

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