Tough Year for the Florida Manatee

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Manatees are imperiled from all sides. In downlisting manatees from “endangered” to “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asserted that threats are under control. As this summer has sadly demonstrated, nothing could be further from the truth.

The biggest threats manatees continue to face are the result of human impacts. As of August 12th, 97 manatees were believed to have died from red tide in Southwest Florida. Others are victims of the toxic cyanobacterial bloom associated with discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Together, these algae blooms consume oxygen from the water, cause respiratory and neurological distress, and kill acres of aquatic vegetation essential to manatee survival.

It is imperative to acknowledge that while red tides do occur naturally, the frequency and intensity of recent events are firmly attributable to human activity. Land-based nutrients feed red tides, which are further exacerbated by the deluge released from Lake Okeechobee. The sources of these nutrients are many. Septic systems, agricultural fertilizer, animal waste, and urban runoff are poorly managed throughout the state and end up in our springs, rivers, and coastal systems where they fuel the toxic blooms that threaten both natural and economic resources.

This year also continues to be a record year for manatee mortality from watercraft strikes. So far in 2018, boat collisions have resulted in 75 manatee deaths. This past winter was also the worst for mortality from cold stress since 2011.

Meanwhile, the laws that have protected manatees and their habitat for decades are under attack. In Congress, the Endangered Species Act faces an onslaught of bills designed to weaken it. The Department of Interior recently proposed new rules undermining the Act, including removal of key provisions that protect threatened species and regulations governing interagency consultation procedures. These regulations are crucial to protecting manatees and their habitat.

Alarm bells are ringing with the public and media now that the problem is so visible, but this problem has been brewing for years. Save the Manatee Club has attempted to address the root causes of these problems: working with the state to develop stronger plans to manage nutrients in important watersheds and to establish additional protected areas for manatees. But we need the public’s help. Clean water and the protection of our nation’s wildlife are nonpartisan issues, and we need leaders who understand the importance of these resources.

For information on contacting your elected officials and other actions you can take, please go to savethemanatee.org/action.

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown are a husband and wife team of underwater photographers. Both have degrees in environmental biology from Manchester University, with Caroline also having a masters in animal behaviour. Nick is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in underwater wildlife photography and he also has a masters in teaching. They are passionate about marine conservation and hope that their images can inspire people to look after the world's seas and oceans. Their Manchester-based company, Frogfish Photography, offers a wide range of services and advice. They offer tuition with their own tailor made course - the Complete Underwater Photography Award. The modules of the course have been written to complement the corresponding chapters in Nick's own book: Underwater Photography Art and Techniques. They also offer equipment sales and underwater photography trips in the UK and abroad. For more information visit www.frogfishphotography.com.

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