Manatees are dying at an unusually high rate across Florida in 2021

Merritt Island Park is being called a “manatee graveyard” as manatee deaths in Florida reach more than half of what they were in all of 2020

FILE: Manatee resting at Three Sisters Springs (Crystal River NWR) while shading over a school of mangrove snappers. (Center for Biological Diversity)

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Florida’s beloved manatees, affectionately known as the “cows of the sea,” are always a sight to behold as they grace our Florida waters. However, since the beginning of 2021, the sea cow population is decreasing at an alarmingly fast rate.

In the first five weeks of 2021, manatee deaths in Florida reached more than half of what they were in all of 2020.

As of February 24, more than 350 manatee deaths have been recorded in Florida in 2021, which is three times the usual average for the same time period, according to The Weather Channel.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, at least 358 manatees have died in Florida since Jan. 1. This is a staggering number compared to just 122 deaths by this time last year, and even more staggering compared to 117 deaths the year before.

The five-year average is 578.

Now, state officials are investigating the cause, but it has not been determined whether it is the manatee’s lack of access to seagrass that is causing the dramatic spike in deaths – or something else.

“It’s been out of control,” says Patrick Rose, a biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, a national organization aimed at protecting the beloved marine mammals. He told the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “It should already be deemed an unusual mortality event.”

Rose believes the manatees are starving to death due to a lack of seagrass. This is because more than half of all reported deaths have been reported in Brevard County along the state’s East Coast where manatees congregate in Indian Lagoon and Merritt Island Park. However, due to the algae blooms, fish kills, poor water quality, and lack of seagrass, their primary habitat is being threatened. Florida Today is even calling Merrit Island Park a “manatee graveyard.”

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, 58% of the seagrass in the lagoon system has disappeared since 2009 as a result of an over-saturation of nutrients in the water.

Also threatening the species are colder temperatures and boat strikes.