The Brink of Extinction

Joey Cashman

The orange state of Florida is a place millions of people call home. It features a unique environment that is home to a large variety of ecosystems. From the beautiful oceans surrounding the state to the swamp lands known as the Everglades, Florida has a huge variety of wildlife that is different from the rest of the states. It is a beautiful place but under its warm mask, there is a dark undertone thanks to humans. Within the waters of Florida exists a sprawling home to thousands of animals. One of the most famous natives in Florida’s waters is currently facing a major threat. Without even realizing, most people never know the harm that they do to other animals. Just a few feet below our parties, tubing, and other boating activities lies a species that is on the brink of becoming extinct.

Manatees are known to be the dogs of the ocean. They are a loving species that can be found all across the Florida coastline. Manatees are playful and outgoing. They love interacting with each other as well as humans. They live and breed in shallow coastlines mostly within seagrass beds. While mostly associated with Florida, they can be found along the Texas coastline and can migrate as far as Massachusetts in the summer. Manatees are a beautiful species that will warm your heart with pictures alone. However, the heartbreaking battle they face is a very important issue. Just within the last few years alone, these mammals have faced so many hardships. The problems they encounter only seem to get worse as time goes on.

One major threat to the Manatee population in recent years has been starvation. Seagrass is a major source of food for the mammals. They are mostly herbivores and live and breed off of these vegetated areas. However, as a result of humans, these beds of plants have been decreasing at rapid numbers. Pollution has been destroying the algae in the Florida waters. Pollution creates algae which in turn, blocks sunlight from reaching the bottom of the ocean. Without the sun, there is little room for plants to grow. The article, Florida’s starving manatees need more than good intentions and lettuce, by The Palm Beach Editorial Board, discusses the situation at hand. According to the article, “Since Jan. 1, more than 1,000 manatees have died in Florida’s waters, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Compare that figure with the annual average death rate of 554 between 2016 through 2020. The Indian River Lagoon is an especially worrisome habitat that has seen the desecration of seagrasses.” (Palm Beach Editorial Board, 2021, 6th Paragraph) These deaths are mostly from starvation. In 2021, 937 manatees lost their lives with starvation being the number one cause for deaths. Fortunately, there are ways that we can help. 

Specialists have been focusing on incorporating other plant resources into a manatees diet such as lettuce. Experts are also trying to set up more feeding areas that are farther away from the public. Even with the help they have been given, pollution will still make matters worse. In addition to pollution, which is caused by humans, there are also other human initiated issues that result in  the sea cows population decline.

Another major cause of death comes from boating accidents. Within the last 50 years, almost 2,000 manatee deaths were caused by boating collisions. Many boaters along the Florida coastline will carelessly drive through seagrass beds while manatees are feeding. Fishing is another activity that ends in tragedy. Even these large animals will get caught under fishing lines and traps which will eventually lead to drowning. It is utterly devastating just how much damage we do to these loving animals.

With so much harm already done, the manatees are in grave danger. Recently, they have been determined to only be on the threatened species list. This decision to reduce their extinction threat is one that makes little sense. With 2021 being the highest year in Manatee deaths, the threatened listing makes things sound much better than they actually are. It is time that we take this issue more seriously and here is how you can help.

The best place to start is by just being more careful. If you are out boating, be sure to avoid seagrass at all cost. If you see an injured manatee, call local manatee protection groups that will bring experts out to help.  It is also important to follow all posted speed signs. Speed zones and other markers have been created by the Florida Manatee Recovery plan in hopes to slow down the deaths. This is a plan that has been created to focus on the areas with the highest deaths and try to stop it in its tracks. You can also protect the environment by recycling and avoiding any types of pollutants, as pollution kills the plants the manatees eat. There are also many different foundations and fundraisers that you can donate to. One of the biggest is Save The Manatee Club. This is an organization that protects the local mammals. You can also urge the government to incorporate even more protection plans against the animals. Every action you take helps.

Whether it’s by donating to these clubs or just reducing your speed in the waterways, everything counts. If we do not spread public awareness of the matter, manatees could become extinct. By merely spreading the news and sharing any awareness efforts you see with your friends, this will help the manatees. Do your part now, no matter how big or small, and together we can ensure these loving sea cows will live on.

Sources: NPR, Save the Manatee