Manatee deaths need a state of emergency declaration

This year there were more than 800 manatee deaths reported in Florida.

The Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition and 16 other concerned organizations and businesses are urging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency triggered by the deaths of more than 800 manatees this year, a horrifying mortality event. Most of these deaths are believed to result from starvation due primarily to the loss of seagrass, especially in the Indian River Lagoon. This loss of their primary food source is attributed to the large amounts of nutrient pollution that have fed algae blooms since at least 2011, killing many acres of seagrass.

Many experts, including Pat Rose, president of the Save the Manatee Club, agree that no quick solution exists to reduce manatee starvation especially during the winter. Nutrient pollution must be further reduced. Large scale seagrass cultivation and planting is recommended. While some measures such as further reduction in lawn fertilizer applications do not require funding, large amounts of additional funding are needed. The Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program has compiled a list of recommended projects with an estimated cost of $5 billion. The Brevard County portion is approximately $3 billion since 70 percent of the lagoon surface area is located in this county.

But it’s going to take more than funding. The state needs to provide effective regulatory controls on all forms of urban, suburban and agricultural pollution, including:

  • Fully implement the governor’s Blue-Green Task Force recommendations;
  • Substantially reduce the nutrient pollution from lawn fertilizer entering the IRL;
  • Stop discharges from Lake Okeechobee from entering the Indian River Lagoon;
  • Ban the use of glyphosate herbicide and other similarly harmful chemicals in or adjacent to waterways;
  • Require advanced technology septic systems where a sewer is not available.

The economic importance of the Indian River Lagoon to the State of Florida and the five counties surrounding the water body is enormous. Brevard County continues to attract residents and businesses associated with the rapidly growing space program as well as other technology-based businesses. Within these five counties, quality of life is heavily influenced by the condition of this Lagoon. Economic analysis has revealed that a severe downturn in Lagoon water quality could cost billions of dollars.

If no quick solution exists, why is a state of emergency needed? It is urgent to raise the level of lagoon restoration and protection before the manages and most other marine life are gone completely.