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Changes Sought for Florida Manatee Critical Habitat as Deaths Set New Record

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USFWS

More than 905 manatees have died in 2021. According to a news release from the Center for Biological Diversity, those deaths are attributable primarily to habitat loss.

That’s why the center, and other conservation organizations filed a formal notice today of their intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to look over outdated “critical habitat” definitions for Florida manatees, according to a press release by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The release goes on to read:

“In 1976 the Service first designated critical habitat for the Florida manatee, but that designation only listed waterways that, at the time, were known to be concentration areas for manatees. As a result, the designation does not describe any specific physical or biological features, like seagrass or warm water springs, that are essential to the conservation of the manatee.”

Elizabeth Fleming with Defenders of Wildlife said, “Manatees are taking hits from every direction, whether it’s loss of warm water habitat, lack of food, vessel strikes, entanglement in marine debris, entrapment in water control structures, harassment and other threats.” According to the Center For Biological Diversity, eight months into 2021, more than 905 manatees have died. That’s double the five-year annual average.

More than 50% of these deaths have been in the Indian River Lagoon, a year-round manatee foraging habitat which also serves as a warm water refuge in cooler winter months. According to the release, “many manatees there died of starvation and malnutrition because of nutrient pollution killing off vast areas of seagrass beds.”

Here in Southwest Florida, a devastating red tide has killed at least 33 manatees this year.

Experts fear the same level of manatee mortality will occur next year. That is why they believe a revised critical habitat based on the best available scientific data will help inform manatee protection efforts at all levels: federal, state, local and private.

Learn more at savethemanatee.org