There has never been a die-off as gruesome as from December through May when 677 manatee carcasses were counted along Florida's east coast. Half were in Brevard County's portion of the Indian River, a coastal lagoon in biological collapse from pollution.
Partly because of the pandemic, necropsies were not done on two-thirds of the dead in Brevard. But by February, authorities had learned that winter cold was not the culprit. They knew from manatees' contorted bodies and from finding nearly no seagrass in the lagoon they were dying of malnutrition.
Widely beloved as irresistibly cuddly, manatees are among Florida's strongest, hardiest creatures. Death by starvation is as inhumane as any of the assaults Florida has inflicted on manatees. Caretakers said suffering lasted months. Many lost nearly half of their weight. While still alive, bones pierced thinning skin and, remarkable to veterinarians, heart, liver and other organs were liquifying.
To survive, the animals consumed their fat and muscle. They lost buoyancy and, becoming too exhausted to swim, could no longer raise their heads for air. An untold number survived, but emaciated. Experts fear their poor health will slow the species' reproduction for years. Of rescue efforts for 80 manatees, a task requiring 10 personnel for each animal, many were too far gone: seven died during rescue and eight died in intensive care.
So far, 37 have been revived and put back in the wild. Here are four takeaways from the die-off, which threatens to repeat itself, according to authorities, who lack experience, quick solutions or even a plan for some of the challenges ahead. Martine de Wit, a veterinarian with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, has determined many specific causes of manatee deaths often with the painstaking examination. The root cause behind the hundreds that starved, she said, is plain "an ecosystem in trouble."Bottle babies
Jon Peterson, who oversees rescued wildlife at SeaWorld Orlando, said raising an orphaned manatee baby, or neonate, for release back into the wild takes three years. "I'm going to spend probably somewhere around $600,000 on every neonate that comes in," Peterson said. From December through May, 19 orphans were brought to care facilities, with 13—or nearly three times the average number—from the state's east coast. "We will bottle-feed every three hours for the first year," Peterson said.
Lauren Hall is one of Florida's top researchers of seagrasses. She is from the St. Johns River Water Management District and oversees the monitoring and mapping of seagrass in the Indian River. In early August, she took an Orlando Sentinel reporter in a boat to an area of the lagoon four miles east of Titusville and a half-mile from wetlands buffering Kennedy Space Center.
$5 billion repair
Chuck Jacoby, a St. Johns water district scientist who accompanied Hall, said millions of dollars from many agencies and levels of government have begun to underwrite lagoon restoration. But with the time-consuming planning and execution that go with restoration projects, there is Florida's environmental axiom: easy to break and difficult to repair.
There is little reason to think that another die-off couldn't occur again this winter, said Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club. "We've got to have a better idea of how the animals are doing," he said. "There's too much uncertainty." Manatees dispersed widely during summer months but it's likely many will return to the Indian River in Brevard.
It has been one of The Big Wobble's biggest and most tragic stories of the last one and a half years. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission attributed 213 manatee deaths to this episode of red tide, which began in late 2017, leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare an unusual mortality event. Combined manatee deaths from red tide, human actions, cold stress and other causes was 824, according to a preliminary FWC report. According to the Herald Tribune, a previous die-off killed 803 manatees in 2013 during another red tide bloom.
Preliminary data from FWC showed that the 824 manatee deaths in 2018 from both red tide, sickness and human-related causes surpassed the previous record of 803 set during another red tide outbreak in 2013.
Apart from the manatee, sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins deaths, it is thought "billions of fish" and countless birdlife have also died.
Because of the partial U.S. government shutdown, NOAA has not provided updates for dolphins on its UME website.
A month later on Tuesday, 5 February 2019, TBW reported;
"This was Florida's Deep Water Horizon!" An incredible 408 marine life die-off's, almost one every day from July 2016 to November 2018 and is the biggest marine disaster in Florida's history and today the Coastal Conservation Association Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have come up with an official number of deaths during that period, they are claiming the red tide killed