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For Immediate Release: Oct 07, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

SEPTEMBER WAS ESPECIALLY DEADLY FOR FLORIDA MANATEES

Red Tide Drives Manatee Mortality So Far in 2018 to Third-Highest All Time


Washington, DC — The month of September exacted a terrible toll on Florida’s manatees, making it the deadliest month so far this year, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In just the period between August 31 and September 28, a total of 77 manatees perished, more than half (45) of which were red tide-related deaths.

Through only three-quarters, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission tallies show –

  • Manatee deaths for 2018 now stand at 676, with more than a quarter being (172) red tide-related;
  • September is on a pace to set an all-time annual mortality record and to more than double the previous highest annual red tide losses; and
  • Red tide-related deaths this year already exceeds all other year’s totals for the past decade, except for the disastrous 2013 when 277 red tide-related deaths propelled the record die-off of 803.

“For manatees, 2018 has gone from bad to worse, starting with a fatal cold snap and ending in exploding toxic blooms,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that red tides have now extended beyond the Gulf of Mexico and have reached the Atlantic coast. “These large die-offs show no sign of letting up, leaving Florida’s remaining manatee population in critical condition.”

Overall, more than 11% of the estimated 6,131 manatees tallied in January have already perished this year. Unless the red tides and algal blooms abate that total could go much higher.

While red tides and algal blooms are seasonal phenomena, high levels of phosphorus and other nutrients in Florida’s water have increased the size, length and toxicity of this year’s outbreaks. PEER has issued a series of reports documenting the precipitous decline in water pollution enforcement under Governor Rick Scott and showing high levels of pollutants discharged both legally and illegally.

“These manatee deaths are the result of gross eco-negligence,” added Ruch, noting that red tides and algal blooms poison manatees and their food supplies. “Unfortunately, manatees cannot swim away from Florida’s clean water crisis.”

Despite 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. The current mortality trend provides strong legal ammunition for restoring its endangered species status.

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Compare 2008-2018 manatee mortality, including red tide-related deaths

View breakdown of 2018 mortality through September 28

Look at 2018 red tide-related deaths

See heavy pollution load on South Florida waters

Revisit toll of last winter’s deadly cold snap

Examine mounting threats to manatee habitat