Florida Manatees Succumb as Algal Blooms Alter Habitat

Outbreaks of algae may once again be taking a heavy toll on the West Indian manatee population in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. Since May, nine manatee carcasses have been found, all bearing signs of gastric trauma related to the spread of algae in the polluted lagoon. Algal blooms block sunlight needed by sea grass, a primary component of the manatees’ diet. This year’s fatalities may signal a return of the mass die-offs that plagued the population from 2012 to 2015, during which time 158 of the animals were found dead. Major algal blooms in 2011 and 2012 wiped out half of the lagoon’s sea grass.

Meanwhile, in January of this year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a reclassification of the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. (See AWI Quarterly, spring 2016.) During the comment period, which ended in April, AWI sent detailed comments strongly opposing the proposed downlisting, given the many threats the animals still face from habitat loss, boat strikes, and pollution.