'They're in Serious Trouble': Over 1000 Manatees Have Died in Florida This Year, Record High

A record-high number of Florida manatees died so far this year, most commonly from starvation. Climate change and polluted waters are mainly to blame for the reduction of their food supply, the Associated Press reported.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported Wednesday so far in 2021, there have been 1,003 manatee deaths beating the previous record of 830 in 2013. Last year 637 manatee deaths were reported.

Boat strikes account for some deaths and many injuries to the population. The majority of deaths are attributed to starvation from the diminishing seagrass supply. State officials and environmental groups say polluted water runoff from agriculture, sewage and other man-made development has caused algae blooms in estuaries, choking off the seagrass. Climate change is worsening the problem.

"Manatees are in serious trouble," ZooTampa at Lowry Park, one of four main manatee critical care centers in Florida, said in a statement Wednesday. "The loss of more than 1,000 manatees this year is deeply concerning and will have serious repercussions for years to come."

The commission is asking state lawmakers to approve $7 million for seagrass restoration, manatee rehabilitation centers and other projects. Lawmakers approved $8 million last year.

The wildlife commission estimates there are currently about 7,500 manatees, also known as sea cows, living in Florida waters. Manatees were listed as an endangered species beginning in 1966, but their status was changed to threatened in 2017. There's a push to return their label as endangered species to bring in more resources and attention to the problem.

"We've had [a] high number of moralities in past years, but this year has been very unprecedent[ed] because of how widespread it is and the year's not over with yet," Senior Research Scientist at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute Monica RossRoss said. "I have been working with manatees for over 30 years now and this is the highest mortality and very wide impact that we've seen for manatees. It's disturbing," WFLA reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Florida, Manatee, Death
More than 1,000 manatees have died in Florida so far in 2021, eclipsing a previous record as the threatened marine mammals struggle with starvation due to polluted waters. Above, a manatee comes up for air is it swims in the Stranahan River, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on April 2, 2020. Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo

To compound the problem, manatees are slow to reproduce. According to the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club—co-founded by Florida troubadour Jimmy Buffet—one calf is born every two to five years after a manatee reaches sexual maturity at about age 5. Twin births are rare.

Authorities expected another bad year for manatees, with more deaths to come as Florida enters the winter months when the animals congregate in warm-water areas where food supplies have dwindled. Seagrass beds on the state's eastern coast have been hit especially hard.

Viewing areas around winter warm-water spots are a big tourist attraction around the state.