For Immediate Release: Monday, December 30, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Record Florida Manatee Boat Kills in 2019
Annual Death Toll Reaches Third Highest; Tops Five-Year Average
Washington, DC — This past year has not been a good one for Florida manatees, according to the latest figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Through December 20, 2019, some 574 manatees have perished, including a record number from watercraft collisions.
This year’s losses well exceed the five-year average mortality. Although the 2019 numbers are down from a disastrous 2018, which saw 804 deaths, they are higher than any other year since the calamitous 2013 die-off in which 830 manatees died, one-third of those from toxic red tides.
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) tallies through December 20th show –
- A record number of boating deaths, accounting for nearly one-in-four (130 thus far) of all manatee deaths and more than a third higher than the five-year average for this cause;
- While 2019 mortality from toxic red tides and algal blooms is down, almost all (18 of 19) of these deaths have occurred just since October 26; and
- Cold stress deaths accounted for 56 losses, down from last year but substantially above the five-year average of 34 such deaths.
“In a disturbing trend, watercraft-caused manatee mortality has almost doubled since 2014,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, noting that final totals could end up even higher. “Humans are the biggest and an increasing cause for manatee mortality.”
The Florida manatee was down-listed from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2017. Yet, FWC winter aerial surveys of all wintering habitats (called synoptic surveys) show that the estimated manatee population has significantly declined since 2017 from 6,620 to 5,733 in 2019. This year’s mortality figures suggest that approximately 10% of this estimated population died during 2019.
“These figures underline the precarious ecological foothold for Florida’s manatees, where a severe cold snap or red tide outbreak could cause the population to crater,” added Whitehouse, whose organization has been highlighting how shriveling water pollution enforcement is tied to increases in algal blooms and red tide events that are lethal to Florida marine life. “Florida must do a much better job of providing safe, non-toxic warm water habitat if the state expects to keep a sustainable manatee population.”