STUART, Fla. (CBS12) — This year is on pace to be one of the deadliest years for Florida’s manatees in the past decade.
"I’m trying to say in loud voices that there’s a problem," said Julia Perry. “We’re in trouble. The condition of the manatees here has been declining. They have nothing to eat. That’s it."
State officials said more than 670 manatees have died already in Florida in 2021. For comparison, 637 manatees died in all of 2020 and 607 in 2019.
"They are starving," said a River Coalition advocate. "I see their bones like an elephant graveyard. It just shows the breakdown of the Indian River lagoon."
Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, said polluted canals and rivers across our region have led to a decline in seagrasses, their main source of food, which manatees normally graze on.
The Indian River Lagoon, a common warm water gathering place for manatees, is the scene of the state’s largest number of deaths.
Manatees are now decomposing on a remote beach on Merritt Island in the Indian River Lagoon.
"We’re looking down the barrel of a smoking gun, which is Lake Okeechobee," said Indian River Waterkeeper Mike Conner. "When a manatee dies, it’s a big impact. You see it and we can only imagine how many other critters are falling the same that manatees are.”
The southern end of the Indian River Lagoon has suffered from a series of algal blooms from Lake Okeechobee that wiped out much of its seagrass.
Due to the recent depletion of local seagrass, manatees are not finding much food, so they are going hungry and at risk for malnutrition.
Over the weekend, researchers and locals gathered on the Ernest Lyons Bridge in Martin County, near Hutchinson Island to rally for area manatees.
The Florida manatee was controversially downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’ in 2017. That status was also a hot button issue during the Save the Manatee Rally.