Nearly 100 Red Tide-Related Deaths So Far; Second-Highest Total This Decade
Washington, DC — Driven by toxic red tides, Florida manatee mortality this year has already surpassed losses during all of 2017, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). With South Florida still in the grips of a red tide state of emergency, the total of 540 manatee deaths through mid-August will likely go much higher by year’s end.
The latest reports from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) covering the period from January 1st through August 12th show –
- A total 540 deaths in less than eight months, eclipsing the 2017 total of 538 manatee deaths. At this rate, more than 10% of the estimated manatee population will perish this year;
- A big part of this spike is the 97 deaths in which red tide is known or suspected to be the cause of death. This number exceeds all other year’s totals for the past decade, except for the disastrous 2013 when 277 red tide-related deaths propelled an all-time record die-off of 803; and
- This year began badly for manatees with 69 deaths from cold stress this winter, more than double the 27 cold stress deaths during 2017, as well as the five-year average for this cause.
“Florida’s manatees have no defense against this ecological disaster,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that red tides and algal blooms poison both manatees and their food supplies. “Florida’s steadily declining water quality is a death warrant for the manatee.”
Notably, 2018 has seen more red tide-related manatee deaths than in any of the past five years. In 2016 and 2017, FWCC identified 73 and 67 manatee deaths, respectively, where red tide was the positive or suspected cause. That was a substantial increase from 15 such deaths recorded in 2015 and the 2 in 2014.
PEER has issued a series of reports documenting the precipitous decline in water pollution enforcement under Governor Rick Scott, as well as the massive amounts of phosphorus and other nutrients discharged daily both legally and illegally into Florida’s waters.
“The increased duration, scale, and toxicity of red tide and algal bloom events should be an eco-wakeup call for Florida,” Ruch added. “Governor Scott has declared a red tide emergency but the role his own environmental policies have played in spawning this crisis deserves examination.”
The manatee is also especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, ranging from record cold snaps to growing acidification of the waters. Despite what appear to be mounting threats to manatee survival, last year the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reduced safeguards for the West Indian manatee by lowering its status from endangered down to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Recent mortality trends may fuel legal challenges to that downgrade.