Manatee deaths on the rise in Florida river

Manatee deaths linked to pollution have resumed in the algae-stricken Indian River Lagoon of Brevard County in Florida.
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Manatee deaths linked to pollution have resumed in the algae-stricken Indian River Lagoon of Brevard County in Florida.

Since the end of May eight manatee carcasses have been recovered, bearing signs of trauma that has killed more than 150 of the marine mammals in the past four years.

"We are still narrowing down the cause, but the hypothesis is still that the change of vegetation that the manatees are eating makes them susceptible to complications in their guts," Martine de Wit, lead veterinarian at the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told the Orlando Sentinel. “It gives them acute shock.”

The Indian River, already ailing from pollution, was crippled with an outbreak of microscopic algae, turning waters strikingly brown or green and wiping out the sea grass on which manatees forage.

Microscopic algae flared up again early this year, smothering much of the Indian River in Brevard County. That outbreak was followed by an enormous fish kill in March that left the canals and open waters of Indian River reeking.

The newspaper reported June 30 that a smelly "guacamole-thick" muck was fouling a stretch of beaches promoted as Florida's Treasure Coast, where lawmakers and residents blame the federal government, saying the algae crisis is fueled by freshwater flows controlled by Army officials to protect an erosion-prone dike.

Sarah Chaney, a receptionist at Central Marine, said boaters and fisherman are canceling reservations after seeing reports of the algae, which she called "horrible and disgusting."

After months of worry about pollution gushing from Florida's largest freshwater lake, waterfront residents and beachgoers of the Treasure Coast have been besieged by noxious algae in an environmental emergency also elevating flood risks as far as the Orlando area and possibly fouling Georgia coastal waters.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties because of torrents of polluted, algae-laden waters dumped from Lake Okeechobee to ease stress on its aging dike. The earthen structure looms over extensive farmland and communities about 130 miles south of Orlando.

"Public-health concerns are huge," Mark Perry, director of Florida Oceanographic Society, told the Sentinel earlier this month.

The Florida Oceanographic Society is an environmental group that has fought for years to stop polluted discharges that also decimate sea grass and oysters.

"This is the worst I've ever seen,” Perry said.

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