A Heartfelt Eulogy for Florida’s Manatees

Photo by MyFWCmedia

Photo by MyFWCmedia

This spring has already proven to be extremely tragic for Florida’s manatee population, and a new report this week from the New York Times suggests even more fatalities before the season is over. So what the heck is going on, right? These deaths (widely recognized as “mysterious” by most major news organizations) are part of a phenomenon commonly referred to as a “red bloom” or red tide, which affects Florida’s waters every year.

A red bloom is an influx of toxic red algae that appears in the shallow waters of the state’s western coast, and is poisonous to any marine life who would try to feed off of affected sea grass, where the toxins cling. Florida’s manatees have succumbed to this invasion before, but never in such alarmingly high numbers. This year, the red bloom has killed 241 of the state’s 5,000 manatees, far surpassing the previous record of 151 fatalities. This comes after reports earlier this year that manatees had been dying from an even more “mysterious ailment” in the state’s eastern rivers, where they should be safe from the red bloom, but apparently not from another mysteriously deadly algae in the Indian River Lagoon having similar effects. Tragically, more manatees are expected to die before this whole sad dance wraps up for another year.

But so: who’s to blame for the red bloom phenomenon? Is this something we can avoid? Experts are uncertain, reports the Times, of there are any human factors to consider here, and how they would weigh against other natural factors like weather and seasonal timing, however:

“Phosphorus runoff from fertilized farms and lawns may have contributed, because algae thrive on a phosphorus diet. The Caloosahatchee River, which runs through rural Florida farmland, empties into the ocean at Fort Myers.”

And sadly (though don’t get me wrong: despite their appearance, I love a manatee as much as the next fellow), manatees are not the only Florida wildlife affected: though the numbers are less drastic, the red bloom will affect birds, dolphins and any other marine life it comes in contact with.

More at Grist | Treehugger | NPR

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