There are ways to help protect manatees in SWFL

International Manatee Day is a time to focus on important members of our ecosystem in Southwest Florida and how to protect them. Manatee deaths have already passed a record in 2021, and the year isn’t over yet.

There are steps that can be taken in the water and on land to help protect manatees.

By easing up on fertilizers and other yard chemicals, people can help reduce pollutants entering our waterways and killing the food manatees need to survive.

Manatee deaths in Florida are at an all-time high with at least 929 deaths so far this year.

“Well, it’s absolutely a wake-up call because manatees are sort of the canary in the coal mine,” said Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director for Save the Manatee Club. “They’re telling us something’s really wrong, and it’s broken.”

Rose told us these gentle giants need our help.

“They really depend on the benevolence of the man also at the same time in order to protect them and their aquatic ecosystems,” Rose said.

That protection can come from slowing down in manatee speed zones and paying attention to what enters our waterways.

“Seagrass is dying off because of pollution,” said James Douglass, an FGCU associate professor of marine science. “The water is polluted with excess nutrients, which causes algae blooms. The algae makes the water dark, and the seagrass doesn’t get enough light so it all dies.”

That’s what we’re seeing in the Indian River Lagoon on the east coast, but Douglass says it’s a statewide issue.

“Everything from fertilizers in your backyard, to farms, to sewage treatment plants and septic tanks,” Douglass said. “And all of these things are putting out too much pollution, and we need to really look at all of these pollution sources and try to reduce them as much as we can.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says most deaths happened during the cold months when manatees migrated through the Indian River Lagoon, which lacked of seagrass.

As temperatures have warmed up, the manatees have traveled to other habitats to eat.

To report a sick, injured, dead or tagged manatee, call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Toll-Free Number: 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922), press “7” to speak with an operator. Cellular phone customers: *FWC or #FWC.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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