Hundreds of Florida Manatees Died in 2023

In 2017, Manatees were delisted under the Endangered Species Act. That action has had deadly consequences.

US Geological Survey | Public Domain

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2023 was a hard year for Florida’s manatees.

As of November 2023, more than 500 manatees had already died across Florida. Last year’s alarming number follows record losses over the last few years. 2021 and 2022 saw the worst and second-worst number of manatee deaths on record.

Florida’s manatees are primarily threatened by habitat degradation and loss. Of the bodies analyzed in Florida Fish and Wildlife’s 2023 manatee mortality data, watercraft-related incidents and disease were the leading causes of death. About 20% of last year’s manatee deaths were linked to large “red tide” algal blooms early in the year. These outbreaks produce fatal neurotoxins ,such as brevetoxins, which accumulate in seagrass, manatees’ main source of food. When ingested, brevetoxins can interfere with manatees’ ability to breathe, surface, or navigate. The toxic poisoning has resulted in paralysis and death among the beloved sea cows and other marine animals.

Due to habitat loss and the poisoning and decimation of their primary food source, the majority of manatees are malnourished. Chronic malnutrition and starvation among manatees has only worsened since 2017, when the Trump administration downlisted Florida’s manatees under the Endangered Species Act. Despite objections from scientists, manatees were reclassified from an endangered to a threatened species, losing essential protections. The move has resulted in a devastating and largely unchecked decline in numbers.

A mother manatee and calf

Healthy manatees can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and grow to 14 feet-long. To survive, manatees need to eat around 10% of their body weight daily. The lack of available and uncontaminated sea grass has left manatees reportedly eating algae and attempting to propel themselves onto banks to eat grass alongside canals and other waterways.

Florida manatees were among the first creatures to be classified as an endangered species by the federal government. Conservationists and scientists agree that the 2017 action has been shown to be disastrously premature. Restoring manatees’ endangered species status is critical to ensuring a better future for these gentle and graceful creatures.

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