Boats named top cause of manatee deaths in 2019

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Manatee

Boats have become the leading cause of manatee deaths this year and are probably going to top the 2018 record of 124 fatal encounters between the mammals and boats, according to Florida statistics.

An article on floridatoday.com said that through November 22, Florida had 120 manatee deaths by boat, topping the five-year average of 91 boat-related manatee deaths through the same time of year, according to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Last year, natural causes were the leading source of death, claiming 230 manatees. Overall, sea cows fared better through mid-November this year than in previous ones with 465 dying from all causes by November 22, compared to 760 manatee deaths by the same date in 2018 and 483 fatalities by that date in 2017.

A record 830 manatees died in 2013 and in 2018, 824 died, which was the second most on record.

Boating advocates have pointed out that manatee deaths are increasing in relation with the growth of the species’ population. Brevard and Lee counties tend to have the most manatee deaths because they have larger populations of the animal. Lee County’s 24 boat-related manatee deaths were the most in Florida, followed by Brevard’s 13 watercraft-related deaths. Volusia County ranks third with 12.

“It is above the 5-year average and getting close to last year’s record number of 124 cases documented,” Martine deWit, an FWC veterinarian said in a statement. “Most of these mortalities happened in the first half of the year. Extra alerts went out at that time, and at least these cases were not coming in as frequent the second part of 2019. Hotspots are the Indian River Lagoon and Lee county.”

Bob Atkins, president of Citizens for Florida’s Waterways, an advocacy group in Brevard, said that the manatee population has shown a 5 percent annual growth rate over the last 40 years and has doubled every 10 to 15 years with the total population nearing 10,000. “How long can the habitat, especially the seagrasses, sustain this level of explosive growth,” he said.

In 2017, Florida had a record population of 6,620 manatees. As a result, the federal government reclassified the mammal from endangered to threatened. During the annual winter survey, state officials counted 5,733 manatees in 2019.

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