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Why are more manatees dying in SWFL than in previous years?

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Manatees have long been a cherished sight in the waters of Southwest Florida, but their numbers have taken a hit in recent years. In the first half of 2021, more manatees have died in the region’s waterways than in any previous year on record. Experts point to a variety of factors, including a rise in boat traffic, deteriorating water quality, and a lack of available food sources. The situation is a cause for concern for both conservationists and lovers of these gentle giants.

Introduction

The number of manatee deaths in Southwest Florida has been rising in recent years. This is alarming because manatees are a protected species, and their populations have been steadily increasing in Florida’s waters. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the increased manatee mortality rate in Southwest Florida.

Human-induced Threats

Human activity is one of the leading causes of manatee deaths. Boat strikes remain a significant cause of manatee mortality, particularly during the winter migration season when the animals move to warmer waters. The propellers of boats can cause serious injuries to manatees, leading to fatal outcomes. Although measures have been taken to reduce boat strikes, accidents continue to occur, leading to the tragic loss of these gentle creatures.

Additionally, manatees’ habitat is under constant threat from human development, which results in a loss of seagrass beds, crucial for the manatee’s survival. As manatees depend on seagrass beds for their food, their populations are vulnerable to declines due to habitat destruction.

Red Tide

Red tide is a harmful algal bloom caused by the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis. This alga produces toxins that can prove lethal to manatees. Red tide is a significant contributor to manatee deaths in Southwest Florida. The harmful algal blooms can lead to respiratory distress, neurological symptoms, seizures, and ultimately death in these marine mammals.

Climate Change

Climate change is another factor that can be contributing to the increased manatee mortality rate in Southwest Florida. Rising temperatures result in increased ocean acidification, which impacts the quality and quantity of seagrass necessary for manatee survival. The impact of climate change on water chemistry and temperature alters the availability of certain nutrients, making it difficult for seagrass beds to thrive. Additionally, extreme weather events such as hurricanes can cause a loss of important seagrass beds, causing long-term damage to manatee populations.

Disease Outbreaks

Disease outbreaks have historically caused significant mortality in manatees. One such outbreak is the snooty-nose syndrome, caused mainly by Streptococcus agalactiae. This disease can lead to severe respiratory infections in manatees, ultimately resulting in death. Disease outbreaks can have serious impacts on manatee populations, and measures must be taken to diagnose, treat and prevent outbreaks from occurring.

Conservation Efforts

Conservation measures are essential in protecting the manatee populations in Southwest Florida. These measures include speed limits in manatee zones, protected habitat areas, manatee rescue and rehabilitation facilities, and public education campaigns. Effective management strategies are necessary to preserve these beloved species for future generations.

In conclusion, the increasing manatee mortality rate in Southwest Florida is a multifaceted issue caused by human, environmental and conservation factors. The most effective solutions will require a holistic approach to mitigate the risks manatees face. By reducing human activity in areas with high manatee populations, protecting their habitat, and mitigating the impact of climate change, we can protect these gentle creatures and ensure populations thrive in Southwest Florida.

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