While many species are enjoying a break from humans during the pandemic, Florida’s manatee death rate is up this year. Increased boating activity, rollbacks on emission caps and delays in environmental improvements all put these defenseless giants in the crosshairs.
“There are several troubling factors coming together during the pandemic,” Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club, told The Guardian. “Manatees were already facing accelerated habitat loss, rising fatalities from boat collisions and less regulatory protection. With COVID, we’re seeing manatees at an increased risk, both from policies that undermine environmental standards and from irresponsible outdoor activity, such as boaters ignoring slow-speed zones.”
Now with pandemic-related problems, manatee deaths were up almost 20% for April through May compared with 2019 figures. June exceeded the five-year death average. However, officials haven’t been able to establish causes for all manatee deaths because the Fish & Wildlife Commission isn’t doing necropsy — the word for “autopsy” when performed on animals — during the pandemic.
Some manatees have undoubtedly been killed or injured by boat collisions. According to Rose, boat ramps remained open in March when other recreational options closed, leading to an uptick in dangerous boating activity. Slow-moving manatees often fail to get out of the way of boats. Injuries are so frequent that researchers tell the animals apart by their scar patterns.
Regulatory changes also threaten manatee habitats. The marine mammals, which are most closely related to elephants, will reap the consequences of the EPA’s decision to suspend water and air pollution monitoring requirements during the pandemic.
COVID-19 is also delaying environmental initiatives. In-person meetings have been postponed, including talks about providing more warm-water manatee habitat by breaching the Ocklawaha River dam.
“We’ve lost tens of thousands of acres of seagrass over the past decade,” Rose said. “The power plants, which currently supply artificial warm water, will also be closing in the coming years, making our fight to protect natural warm springs habitat all the more critical.”
Via The Guardian
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