VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – Manatees in the Indian River Lagoon are in trouble.

What You Need To Know

  • Researchers concerned about manatees on Florida's Atlantic Coast

  • Save the Manatee Club says manatee deaths on the rise

  • Patrick Rose, Save the Manatee Club exec. director, says many are starving to death

The Save the Manatee Club claims so many are dying that it is a state of emergency.

At Blue Spring State Park, Save the Manatee Club researchers like Cora Berchem keep close watch over the manatees.​ And while most manatees are doing well there, Berchem says that’s not the case towards the coast.

“In the seven years I have worked here, I have never seen mortality rates like this,” Berchem said. 

According to the Save the Manatee Club, since December 1, 2020, more than 300 manatees have died on the Atlantic Coast of Florida, with 200 or more of those from the six Florida counties that make up over 150 miles of the Indian River Lagoon. The director of the club says many of those deaths happened in Volusia and Brevard especially. 

“We are likely at 150 manatees that have died already just in 2021 and substantially more at the end of 2020,” Save the Manatee Club executive director Patrick Rose said.

Rose said this is the result of something they’ve never seen before here in Florida, and he expects an unusual mortality event to be declared soon. 

“This is likely a combination of cold playing a role in this but this is looking like a significant number of those manatees are starving to death and that is something really new,” he said.

Rose says that the sea grass that manatees eat in the India River Lagoon is dying off in a major way, unable to survive an increase in nutrient pollution that leads to algae blooms. Not only is that causing the manatee to starve— but it hurts the entire ecosystem. 

“When you see this kind of carnage in essence and so many of them dying, it is not just limited to manatees, there is going to be much less fish, even dolphins are going to be having problems,” he said.

Rose believes this phenomenon of manatees starving is getting out of hand partially because of the pandemic. 

“This is something new and I believe it’s been compounded a bit because of COVID because there just hasn’t been the ability to keep the same levels of monitoring and staying on top of it so these bad things have happened at a bad time,” he said. 

Now he is hoping to bring more attention to this problem before it gets any worse. Rose said people need to be more cautious of polluting and hopes more state resources will be diverted to try and solve this problem before manatee mortality rates continue to rise. 

“If we don’t get a handle we may seeing a declining population in manatees again, something we hoped we would never see,” he said. 

Rose said while these mortality rates are isolated to the Indian River lagoon right now, he said if the problem continues, he could see it happening across the state. 

Spectrum News 13 contacted the FWC about this issue. The agency sent this statement, including what the public can do to help the manatees:

“The FWC is investigating a high level of manatee mortalities and responding to manatee rescues on the central and south Atlantic coast of Florida. The FWC takes manatee conservation seriously and has a long history of improving the manatee population and habitat.

Responding to live manatees in need of rescue continues to be a top priority to FWC and partners from the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership. The FWC has always done a rigorous and thorough job at investigating threats to manatees. The investigation is in progress, and we will be sharing information as it becomes available.”

Ways you can help manatees:

  • Boaters will find them easier to spot if they wear polarized sunglasses and keep a lookout for signs of manatees such as the circular “footprints” they trace on the top of the water or their snouts sticking up out the water. 
  • Look, but don’t touch manatees. Keep your distance when boating, even if you are steering a canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Be a good role model for others so that they learn how to watch and enjoy manatees without disturbing the animals. 
  • The plate you buy matters; support FWC manatee rescues and research. Next time you renew your tag, consider a “Save the Manatee” license plate!  
  • Show your support for manatee conservation by proudly displaying a manatee decal. These high quality stickers feature original artwork and are available from your local Tax Collector’s office with a $5 donation.  
  • Call FWC's Wildlife Alert Toll-Free Number 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922) or #FWC on a cell phone if you see a sick, injured, dead or tagged manatee.