FOR RELEASE: January 5, 2017
Contact: Kirsten Stade (2502) 265-7337
Manatee Mortality Spiked in 2016
Record Number of Florida Manatees Killed by Boat Collisions
Washington, DC — Last year was not a good year for Florida manatees, as deaths in 2016 rose to a recent high and the numbers killed by watercraft reached an all-time record, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, manatee deaths related to toxic red-tide events are also starting to creep back up, more than tripling in the last year.
The latest compilation of reports from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) tally 509 manatee deaths in 2016 – a substantial rise from the 404 manatee deaths in 2015 and 371 in 2014. This 2016 mortality spike is also notable because it was not driven by external environmental causes. The all-time record of 803 manatee die-off in 2013 was sparked by massive toxic red-tide events and the 766 manatee toll in 2010 followed a disastrously severe cold spell.
Instead, the major factor in 2016 appears to be the record number of manatee killed in collisions with watercraft. The 102 boat-related deaths in 2016 jumped by almost half from the 69 such deaths just two years ago. The rise in fatal manatee collisions may be a combination of several factors, such as –
- Declining enforcement of speed limits in designated manatee zones, even though statistics show that almost 50% of boaters exceed speed limits. In addition, none of 13 “key” Florida counties have updated their manatee protection plans during the past decade;
- Continuing spread of private marinas into manatee habitat; and
- Expanding “swim with manatees” tourism, in which hordes of swimmers descend upon manatees’ safe haven areas, driving the fleeing animals into dangerous channels.
While the state had claimed earlier last year that manatee populations were rising, the 2016 mortality numbers suggest that by December Florida’s manatee population may have declined by almost 10% from the prior year.
“Despite official happy-talk, Florida’s manatees remain in a most precarious position,” stated PEER staff counsel Laura Dumais. “Without stronger safeguards, population increases merely put more manatees in danger of being sliced up by speedboat propellers.”
At the same time, the danger of toxic red tides is again on the rise. In 2016, FWC identified 53 manatee deaths where red-tide events were the positive or suspected cause. That was a substantial increase from the 15 such deaths recorded in 2015 and the only 4 registered for 2014.
“Compounding the perils of steady habitat loss caused by waterfront development, ecological events like red tides and cold snaps make Florida’s manatees extremely vulnerable to mass die-offs,” added Dumais, noting a proposal by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to cut endangered species protection for this iconic marine mammal, followed predictably by a call by boating groups to roll back protections. “It is most premature to declare the manatee an environmental success story and roll back the safeguards that keep it a viable species in the wild.”