FWC investigating after manatee dies in Chiquita Lock

Published: June 8, 2022 5:33 PM EDT
Updated: June 8, 2022 5:59 PM EDT

A manatee has died after getting stuck in the Chiquita Lock in Cape Coral.

A preliminary investigation suggests the manatee got stuck and drowned. And this is not the first time it happened.

The discovery is fueling the city’s fight to remove the Lock for food over wildlife and boating concerns.

The city has been pushing to remove the Lock since 2016. They came close to removing it in 2019 but ran into opposition from the Matlacha Civic Association. In Sept. of 2021, the city filed another request to remove the Lock. The Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing the current permit application.

There is no word from the state’s DEP on when they might rule on Cape Coral’s latest appeal. As the city waits, it’s been working on a plan to address issues in the South Spreader Waterway, which includes mangrove and oyster bed expansion and other projects to address water quality and wildlife protection.

But for now, boats can make it through the Lock with ease when there is little traffic, but on a beautiful weekend, the way can be long.

“It’s the backup of the boats. It’s the limitation of what the Lock can hold. The amount of time it takes to get through the Lock,” said William King, who said he now avoids taking the boat out on weekends.

During peak time, it could take hours for boats to get passage.

“It’s a nuisance. It just needs to go. I don’t see the need for it,” King said.

Cape Coral City Manager Rob Hernandez agrees.

“The Chiquita Lock has outlived its intended purpose,” Hernandez said. “It was initially designed as a stormwater control device. As we’re seeing now it is having a negative impact on wildlife particularly when it comes to manatees”

The manatee was found dead on Tuesday.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said a preliminary cause of death is structure-related, meaning the necropsy shows the animal got stuck and drowned.

This is the eighth manatee to die in the Chiquita Lock since Sept. 2005.

The manatee’s death has made Cape Coral City Manager Rob Hernandez angry.

“They’re welcomed in our community and we want to make sure that they remain safe. And we know that the Lock is a problem for their continued existence here,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said this is at least the second manatee to die this year because of the Lock.

“They traverse through the waterway, they have to go through the Chiquita Lock to go out into the bay and unfortunately they get trapped in the Lock and they end up drowning,” Hernandez said.

William King boats through the Lock at least once a week.

He sees the wildlife. And to hear of another manatee’s death, he said there is no need for it.

“It can be avoided. I just don’t see the need for the Lock,” King said.