TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Manatees have starved to death by the hundreds along Florida’s east coast because algae blooms and contaminants are killing the seagrass the beloved sea mammals eat, a wildlife official told a House committee Tuesday.
Seagrass has been decimated in the 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon and neighboring areas. The aquatic plant thrives in clear, sandy water, but murkier water because of the algae and pollutants has made it harder for seagrass to survive, said Melissa Tucker, director of the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Our statewide death count from all sources has been higher than it’s ever been reported before,” Tucker told the House State Affairs Committee. “This is a starvation issue. There’s not enough seagrasses that are available to the manatees.”
Officials noticed a sharp rise in manatee deaths from December through May, when the sea cows congregate in warm waters. During that period, 677 manatees died, when typically only 156 die, Tucker said.