More Florida manatees have died this year than in any previous year since records began. The cause is primarily starvation due to loss of seagrass beds, according to state officials. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported 841 manatee deaths between January 1 and July 2, which already exceeds the previous record set in 2013 of 830 deaths over the course of the entire year. The culprit then was an outbreak of toxic red tide.
According to news website TCPalm.com, more than half of the current manatee deaths have occurred in the Indian River Lagoon and surrounding counties. The majority of deaths—37 percent—have been in Brevard County on Florida’s central Atlantic coast. Biologists believe the seagrass beds are being destroyed by water pollution, leaving the manatees with no food. Boat strikes are also a cause of manatee deaths, killing at least 63 animals this year. Until 2017, manatees were classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, with strict protections. This designation was unwisely lowered to threatened, despite opposition from AWI and other organizations.