Researchers puzzled by wildlife deaths in Florida

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Researchers are perplexed by a year-long spike in manatee, dolphin and pelican deaths in the shallow lagoons and brackish waters of Florida’s Indian River estuary.

About 280 manatees have died in the last 12 months along 50 miles of northern estuary waters off Brevard County and the Kennedy space complex, 109 of them under mysterious circumstances, according to The New York Times. As the manatee deaths peaked this spring, there were then hundreds of pelican deaths along the same stretch of water, followed this summer by scores of bottlenose dolphin deaths.

While the exact cause is unknown, researchers and state officials fear it’s the collapse of the natural balance that sustains more than 4,300 species of wildlife in the estuary’s northern reaches.

“We may have reached a tipping point,” Troy Rice, who directs the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, told the Times. The program is a federal, state and local government partnership at the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Rice says rapid population growth and pollution generated by coastal Florida’s explosive development are among the likely causes of the environmental imbalance.

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