Southeast
via Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

FL - Manatee deaths are 'just the beginning of the end' of lagoon as we know it | Opinion

Manatees are dying at an unprecedented rate in the Indian River Lagoon due to starvation and cold stress.

Since Jan. 1, 2021, almost 200 manatees have died in Brevard County lagoon waters, which is more than the entire previous year. At the current rate of 20 manatee deaths per week, in a year the population will be reduced to the point where it can no longer sustain itself. Indian River Lagoon species need healthy, lush fields of seagrasses and seagrasses need clear, clean water. This year’s Indian River Lagoon Report Card (savetheirl.org) shows that seagrasses continue to decline throughout the lagoon, but especially in the Banana River, the North Indian River Lagoon and the Mosquito Lagoon.

Manatees and seagrass evolved together for centuries; the manatees spread the seagrass roots and seeds and the seagrasses provided food and habitat. Due to human changes to the watershed and inputs of excess pollution, the Indian River Lagoon is experiencing algae super-blooms that block light and kill seagrasses. As a result, the basic ecosystem function is changing from an angiosperm- (seagrass) dominated system to an algae-dominated one. With that change, many of the creatures we love will perish — the baitfish will disappear, and the sports fish and dolphins who eat them, the green sea turtles, the shrimp ... the manatee deaths are just the beginning of the end of our lagoon as we know it.

The only thing we can do to save the manatees and many other lagoon species from regional extinction is to keep fighting for clean water. Florida needs a complete overhaul of the way we manage our wastewater, stormwater, and development. We need to stop polluting and remove the legacy load of muck that is literally choking the system. The dirty truth is we discharged millions of gallons of human waste into the lagoon daily until 1996, when the Marine Resources Council successfully led the coastal community to pass the Indian River Lagoon System and Basin Act to make wastewater discharges illegal.

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