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For the Florida Manatee it IS a state of emergency

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Guest Blog by Staci-lee Sherwood

As long as I can remember, manatees have been in trouble.  For much of the 1970s and 80s, boat strikes were the most common cause of injury and death.  Since 1974  the annual  death rate  has steadily increased every year. Unbelievably Florida and the US Fish and Wildlife agency (USFWS) decided in 2017 this warranted a delisting and removal of legal protection making our beloved manatees more vulnerable to population collapse.  Patrick Rose,  Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club, said: “Despite the fact a majority of their scientific peer reviewers felt that the move was premature from a biological standpoint.”

Despite disturbing trends that included significant habitat loss, USFWS  went ahead with this misguided decision.  In March 2021 a study was published  showing that 55.8% of the Florida manatees sampled  had Glyphosphate, a commonly used herbicide, in their tissue.  A revision of critical habitat was warranted but the Service never revised the manatee’s critical habitat.  In 2013, I wrote my first article about the manatee crisis and wondered how they would survive long term.  In 2018 we were inching closer to extinction with massive pollution problems and seagrass die off and wondered again what it would take to save them. Now it’s 2021 with the worst die off in history. Things are so bad that the few manatees currently in rehab can’t be released because there is no food for them to eat. The calves born this year will all likely die.  Replanting of seagrass earlier this year was a failure.

Due to the extreme crisis we are seeing a revision to the listing of the manatee to return to being listed as ‘endangered’ under the Endangered Species Act . This proposal would afford the manatee full legal protection.  However a law is just words on paper and without any funding and enforcement can be rendered useless. Nevertheless, as long as a law remains on the books there is always potential use. But along with boat strikes newer more insidious dangers have come on the scene in two forms; Red Tide and Cyanobacteria.

Red Tide is thought to be naturally occurring but has become far more frequent and deadly.  While the public calls it ‘red tide’ it’s actually called harmful algal blooms, or HABs, which occur when colonies of algae—simple plants that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control while producing toxic effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds.  Just what causes them to grow out of control is up for debate though all the dumping of human sewage, oil, pesticides and  agriculture chemicals probably contributes.  This is primarily the problem on the west coast but another danger awaits the manatees on the east coast and it’s called Cyanobacteria.

The east coast is often overwhelmed with Cyanobacteria, often called blue-green algae, which thrives on a recipe of nitrogen, phosphorus and warm water.  These are the chemicals found in fertilizer used on lawns and agricultural which contribute to aquatic “dead zones” in coastal areas from runoff. Since Florida is warm year round, the amount of fertilizer that ends up in the water is more then would be found in colder climates. This means the water is constantly being saturated with toxins.  Added to that  is the huge phosphate mining industry which encompasses over 1 million acres that also leaks into our waterways.

No one really knows the extent of  runoff from mining, lawns and farms but it’s enough to cause almost yearly massive marine life die off which includes fish, sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and manatees. For humans that breathe in the air that surrounds a bloom, touch the water or consume fish from the water, the consequences can be just as deadly. For manatees it has been the nightmare that keeps on giving,

Cyanobacteria is deadly by itself.  Exposure for the manatee comes from breathing in the air near a bloom, swimming in toxic water and eating vegetation growing in it. You’ll know it when you see and smell it. The water takes on a vile smell and a caustic shade of neon green. As if this toxic soup wasn’t enough the state also sprays herbicides on aquatic vegetation.  Among the plants deemed  enemy of  the state is Hydrilla, though Seagrass is the main food source manatees will eat this plant. Despite FWC and the companies they hire knowing this, they spray the poison on these plants anyway.  This not only kills the plants but is deadly for the manatees who eat them.  Now the stage is set for the unprecedented crisis of 2021.

A new study  published in early 2021 sheds more light on the possible causes for the sick and dying manatees.  While 90% of  their food source has  been killed  by spraying, the type of chemicals sprayed is also of grave and confusing concern.  In an ironic twist the most popular herbicide used by FWC is Diquat  dibromide.  The study shows how Bromide molecules detected in Cyanobacteria found on Hydrilla were made  more toxic when sprayed with Diquat  which contains Bromide. This causes the Cyanobacteria blooms to be more dangerous to all living creatures.  Attempts to get an answer from FWC as to why they spray a toxin known to cause the explosion of Cyanobateria have gone unanswered.  The EU banned Diquat and all products containing it in 2018.

All this spraying and dumping has finally bubbled up to where  the die-off is officially classified as an unusual mortality event. But, said Rose: “It has been an unusual event among unusual events. We are talking about three times the mortality that occurs even in years that are affected by red tide and cold stress, in addition to watercraft injuries.”

Now a new cause of death among manatees has emerged: starvation. “Until recently, the availability of food had never been an issue for manatees,” Rose said. “But along stretches of the east coast, including the Indian River Lagoon, we have lost 90 percent of the seagrass.” A whopping 905+ manatees have died  between January and August.  Emergency funding for manatees was introduced back in April, HR 2848 Marine Mammal Research and Response Act of 2021, which would provide funding for more rehab centers and medical supplies among other things needed to keep the manatee alive.  As of August 28th the bill has stalled in committee and might not even come for a vote till the end of the year.

In ancient times manatees were often mistaken for  mermaids by sailors. Unfortunately for manatees the magical myth of mermaids will not be able to stave off extinction as long as Florida continues down the road of dumping pollutants into the waterways and their addiction to spraying poison continues unfettered.

Ways to help our dying manatees now:

  • Contact FWC and request they stop spraying ALL toxic herbicides immediately Matt Phillips email – phillips@myfwc.com. Phone, 850-617-9430  & Michelle Pasawicz admin for manatee program michelle.pasawicz@myfwc.com
  • As a US resident call your House of representative and ask they bring HR 2848 to the floor for a vote asap
  • If not a US resident you can contact the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and ask she bring If the bill HR 2848 to the floor for a vote phone: (202) 225-4965 or on Twitter  Nancy Pelosi @SpeakerPelosi
  • Stop using chemicals on your lawns.
  • All sick and injured Manatees should immediately be reported to FWC at 1-888-404-3922
  • If you are part of a HoA , educate them about not using herbicides
  • All of these tips and more can be found on our website at https://www.savethemanatee.org/how-to-help/take-action/floridas-algae-blooms/

Photos: Thank you to Tim Martell (rescue photos) and Save the Manatee Club (photo of two Manatees underwater).

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Creature Feature: Porbeagle

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In this series, the Shark Trust will be sharing amazing facts about different species of sharks and what you can do to help protect them.

This time we’re showcasing the robust Porbeagle, one of the only known sharks that may love to play..

Shaped like a rugby ball, this muscular stocky shark is incredibly hydrodynamic and built for endurance. Dark grey-blue in colour with a white belly, they have a pointed snout and large black eyes.

Porbeagle’s belong to an elite group of sharks known as the mackerel sharks. These include some of the most powerful and agile sharks in the world, such as the White Shark and Shortfin Mako. This group are endothermic, so can keep themselves nice and warm, due to a remarkable adaptation known as a rete mirabile. This makes them more efficient hunters and able to tolerate colder waters.

Porbeagle’s look a lot like White Sharks, so are often mistaken for them. As they’re found in UK waters, this has led to many false reports of White Sharks in the UK. But Porbeagle’s are around half the size. Although still a large shark, the biggest Porbeagle on record is 3.6m. While the largest White Shark is 6m.

Found worldwide in cold-temperate waters, Porbeagle’s are strong swimmers. Travelling thousands of miles in search of food and to give birth. One individual, tagged in Irish waters, journeyed over 2,000 miles to Newfoundland in Canada. A known mating ground for Porbeagle’s.

Porbeagle’s may live on their own, or in small groups made up of similar sized or same sex individuals. With males and females coming together usually in September-November to mate. Yet in some places this can take place in January.

These sharks reproduce slowly, so are extremely vulnerable to destructive fishing. Females take 12-16 years to reach sexual maturity, males 6-10 years. After 8-9 months, females will give birth to litters of just 1-5 pups, which are relatively large at 60-80cm long.

Two distinct populations exist – the north Atlantic and south Pacific. Individuals from these areas don’t seem to mix, resulting in key differences. North Atlantic Porbeagle’s get a lot bigger, and don’t tend to live as long as those in the south Pacific.

During the day Porbeagles tend to spend their time in deeper waters, rising to the surface at night. They’re opportunistic feeders, mostly eating small fish – such as mackerel, whiting and herring – as well as octopus, squid and cuttlefish.

Highly inquisitive, Porbeagles have been seen chasing each other, rolling at the surface, and even pushing around floating objects and kelp. Could they be playing? Currently there are no scientific studies to back this up. But what an interesting study that would be…!

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Lamna nasus
  • FAMILY: Mackerel Sharks (Lamnidae)
  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 3.6m
  • DIET: Small fish & squid
  • DISTRIBUTION: Wide-ranging in temperate waters (except North Pacific).
  • HABITAT: Coastal and oceanic waters from 0-1,800m deep. Prefers temperatures below 18°C but can tolerate -1–23°C.
  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Vulnerable

For more amazing facts about sharks and what you can do to help the Shark Trust protect them visit the Shark Trust website by clicking here.

Header Image: Doug Perrine / Alamy

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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Top Destinations to dive with Manta Rays

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In their mission to create a billion Torchbearers to explore and protect the ocean, PADI is encouraging divers to seek adventure and experience first-hand the vital eco-systems below the surface of the ocean.

To further raise awareness of this mission on International Manta Ray Day (17 September 2021), PADI has rounded up the top destinations in the world that are currently open to divers.

Machadilla National Park, Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

Diving in Ecuador offers a special paradise for scuba divers, in which the chance of encountering marine species nowhere else on earth is extremely high due to the heavy currents and nutrient rich waters. And for those keen to dive with manta rays, head out with PADI 5 Star Dive Center Exploramar Diving, or PADI 5 Star Dive Center Mares Ecuador here they take divers out to Machadilla National Park in Isla de la Plata for a chance to greet these graceful creatures every July to September.

Find out more with PADI’s Dive Guide for Ecuador

Kona, Big Island, Hawaii

Hawaii’s volcanic origins and isolated geographical location makes for a whirlwind of scuba diving encounters underwater, with manta ray encounters being likely all year long. For those looking for an extra special experience,  PADI 5 Star Dive Center Jack’s Diving Locker offers a manta ray night dive and a PADI Distinctive Specialty Course called Manta Ray Diver, which covers everything from the manta ray anatomy to cleaning habits, reproduction and how to identify individual rays in the local population.

Find out more with PADI’s Dive Guide for Hawaii

Bryon Bay, Australia

For those who are currently in Australia, they can have their backyard manta ray encounter with PADI 5 Star Dive Center Sundive Byron Bay. The summer months of December to May bring manta rays to the nearby Julia Rocks Marine Reserve, which National Geographic once acknowledged as one of the top 20 dives in the world.

Find out more with PADI’s Dive Guide for Australia

Manta Point, Nusa Penida, Bali

The name speaks for itself. Manta Point in Bali is a haven for manta rays all year long, with the best time to see them being from April to May. PADI 5 Star Dive Center and Resort  Scuba Junkie Penida  offers the ultimate manta ray diving experience in the area, adding coral dives and drift dives to the day’s adventure.

Find out more with PADI’ Dive Guide for Bali

Komodo National Park, Labuan Bajo, Indonesia

One of Indonesia’s most famous diving destinations is also one of the best places to dive with manta rays! PADI 5 Star Dive Resort Blue Marlin Komodo is the perfect place for a manta ray holiday, where divers can stay at the dive resort while getting their PADI Open Water Diver certification and then hop aboard their dive vessel for a day of diving out at sea with manta rays!

Find out more with PADI’s Dive Guide for Indonesia

Six Senses Manta Point, Laamu Atoll, Maldives

Crystal clear warm waters, white sandy beaches and manta rays—PADI 5 Star Dive Resort Six Senses Laamu offers the ultimate luxurious manta ray holiday. As the only dive resort in the Laamu Atoll, divers of all levels will have extremely personable encounters with manta rays every month of the year in this world-class diving area.  There are also more than 180 PADI Dive Centers and Resorts in the Maldives that can take divers out to have a manta ray encounter.

Find out more with PADI’s Dive Guide for the Maldives

Azores, Portugal

The islands that make up the Azores off the coast of Portugal are one of the most diverse for marine life. One  specific type of manta rays known as the Mobula birostris is known tohang out in large groups around the island of St. Maria between June and October, with PADI 5 Star Haliotis Dive Center offering guided boat trips to the island.

Find out more with PADI’s Dive Guide for Portugal

Diving with whale sharks and manta rays can make a difference in protecting these incredible species for future generations – dive tourism encourages protection from local communities and governments. But its important to always adhere to local guidelines and best practices to ensure these creatures’ well-being is always at the forefront. PADI dive operators understand the importance of using the proper equipment, the time of day to dive with sharks, and the maximum number of operators that should be on the water at any given time. To learn more about responsible shark and ray tourism and other ways you can support the protection of these incredible animals, visit padi.com/aware/sharks.

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Egypt | Simply the Best Itinerary | 14 – 21 October 2021 | Emperor Echo

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Subject to availability.
Alternative departure airports available at supplement.

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