Emily Smith, a Brickell-area resident, was walking her dog down a path one recent morning along the water when she spotted a big floating grey “blob.” She went to get a closer look and discovered it was a dead manatee, belly-up with its carcass partially deteriorated.
The first thing she did was contact Miami-Dade Animal Services, which directed her to a phone number for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to report the deceased sea cow.
Manatees have been dying at an increased rate throughout Florida; calls like Emily Smith’s are an almost weekly event at the FWC. Florida lawmakers know this is a problem, but the question is whether they will do anything about it.
“Living in Brickell, residents here see manatees all the time,” says Smith. “They’re very friendly and like to come and greet us when we walk by. Seeing that so many of these friendly giants are dying is a really sad sight. It breaks my heart.”
Over 700 manatees have died so far this year, almost three times the five-year average, according to the FWC. In South Florida the rates are not so high, but are catching up to middle and north Florida.
“Within a year, if things don’t get better, the species won’t be able to survive on its own,” said FWC officer Laura Perez. “These sweet and gentle animals are dying out too quickly, and something needs to be done to save them before we reach that point.”
Starvation is one of the most common causes of manatee death.
Save the Manatee Club, a Florida organization that helps rescue and rehabilitate the sea cows, works with a variety of organizations, including Miami Seaquarium on Virginia Key.
“We do everything that we possibly can to help these animals when they come to us,” said Melanie Sosa, a volunteer with the organization. “Sometimes we get manatees that are in such poor condition that there isn’t much that we can do for them except help them live out the rest of their days in as little pain as possible.”
Throughout Florida there has been an outcry from residents wanting to know what can be done to help these animals.
Recently, lawmakers approved an $8 million dollar budget for manatee habitat restoration. The money is to help restore seagrass and identify the causes of starvation.
“It’s an important issue,” Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island in Brevard County recently told floridapolitics.com. “Seagrass is vital to the health of our waterways. It reduces erosion, it filters quality of water, and it’s a vital source of food for the manatees. Seagrass depends on sunlight. Because of the algal bloom situation we’ve had around the state in years past, the water has become very, very cloudy, and the sunlight cannot penetrate.”
The money will more than double the funding that Florida’s most popular marine mammal receives annually. Most of the state’s manatee protection efforts are paid for by specialty license plates and decals, boat registration fees and donations from Floridians that flow into a trust fund managed by the FWC. The revenues for fiscal year 2019-2020 totaled $3.9 million.
“I hope that this new plan will help the manatees out and their population,” said Smith, who reported the dead manatee off Brickell. “Seeing them is such a unique Florida experience and my favorite part of every morning.”