Boats strikes killing manatees at record-setting pace
As of July 22, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had counted 71 manatees killed by boats, compared with 58 manatees killed by boats by mid-July 2009. In 2009, a record 97 manatees died from boat strikes.
According to the Save the Manatee Club, a combination of cheaper gasoline, an improving economy, a mild winter and a hot summer have put more boats on Florida waterways this year and manatees are caught in the traffic.
Discharge and runoff from Lake Okeechobee are contributing to manatee woes in the Indian River Lagoon on Florida's east coast, where algae blooms are killing sea grasses, a primary manatee food source.
This comes at a time when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ponders whether increases in Florida manatee populations warrant moving the manatee from endangered to merely threatened. During fly-overs, more than 6,000 manatees have been counted each of the past two years.
The Save the Manatee Club rejected the argument that increases in boat-related manatee deaths are to be expected due to increasing manatee numbers. "We disagree," argued the club in a statement. "We believe that educated, compliant and watchful vessel operators are key."
Boating advocates insist the blame lies with federal agencies, whose policies have polluted Florida waterways and reduced manatee habitat, making them more vulnerable to boat strikes. "We're over carrying capacity," said Jim Kalvin, president of Standing Watch, a boater advocacy group. "Boaters are just as much a victim as the manatees are," he added.
The Conservation Commission also tracks other causes of manatee deaths, including cold stress, natural causes and manatees that die soon after birth. Overall, manatee deaths this year number 336, compared with 429 in all of 2009.