MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. - Florida manatees are dying at an alarming rate and the issue is finally getting the attention advocates say is long deserved.
"We’ve been stressing to them that there are problems in the Indian River Lagoon area for many years," said Save the Manatee Club Executive Director Patrick Rose.
Now, the federal government is stepping in to help. Since U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), the organization has since classified the sharp increase in manatee deaths in Florida as an unusual mortality event. That means Fish and Wildlife will now do its own investigation and throw additional funding at getting down to the cause.
"We still need a much better idea on how those remaining manatees are doing, and we need more manatees that have died to be necropsied so we can better understand more fully their cause of death," Rose said.
The FWC reported earlier this month that more than 400 manatees died across Florida so far this year, many of them in Brevard County. Last year at this time, only 85 had died statewide.
Advocates believe pollution is causing algae blooms that ultimately shade and kill seagrass, which the manatees live off of. But more research needs to be done, and now with federal help, they’re hoping it finally will.
"I do say that this is one of those times when they got caught off guard and they should have done a better job. We’re on our way to working out what’s the best strategy from here."