Almost 800 manatees have died so far this year in Florida, breaking a previous record. This surge in mortalities could derail plans to remove the marine mammals from the endangered species list.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute reported last week that 769 manatees died this year. The largest previous die-off in the species history was in 2010, when 766 perished.
A toxic red algae bloom in Southwest Florida killed almost 300 manatees earlier this year. Boat collisions and a mysterious illness found in the Indian River Lagoon also led to the high number of fatalities.
Tom Mackenzie, a spokesman for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said this could change his agency’s plan to possibly downgrade the species from “endangered” status to “threatened.”
“We have to look at this again,” he said. “So, we are taking a little bit of a pause and we are going to take a look at it in years to come.”
A few years ago the federal agency was sued requiring it to re-assess whether or not manatees were endangered.
However, Mackenzie said the agency doesn’t yet know how this year impacted the species going forward.
“We may not know the true impact of these recent mortality events possibly even for several years out into the future,” he said.
Mackenzie says federal budget cuts through sequestration could prolong and complicate this process, though.