Florida commissioner suggests killing manatees to save seagrass beds

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“Rather than talking about killing them, we should be talking about what we can do to better protect them,” said James Powell of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — When there’s not enough seagrass to feed all the manatees, what do you do?

A Florida county commissioner says the answer may be to kill a few.

“No one is addressing the fact that we have too many manatees, eating such a small amount of seagrass,” Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith said.

At a commission meeting on March 22, Smith said he wanted to address the elephant in the room. He said culling the manatee population should be considered to help give sea grasses a better chance to thrive – in the same way as other animal populations.

“When the bear population exceeds that, what happens? They hunt, they cull the herd, they decrease the populations,” Smith said. “I think something has to be considered along those lines.”

But James Powell, president and executive director of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, said manatees are not like other animals. It is an endangered species.

“To shoot them down or kill them is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “The reason they are threatened is that they might disappear after a while. Shooting them down would speed this up.

Powell says it’s extremely difficult this time of year for manatees, as more of them congregate in the same areas to stay warm. They congregate and eat the food supply in these places.

But, says Powell, that’s only for short periods of the year, and the main reason seagrasses are weak is human impact from things like fertilizers and septic runoff.

“To say that we are going to solve the problem by killing manatees after destroying or degrading their home or their habitat is ridiculous,” he said. “We created this problem, they didn’t create this problem. Really what we should be doing, rather than talking about killing them, we should be talking about what we can do to better protect them. »

Just days ago, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced its “Manatee Survival Plan” to deal with the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) that manatees are experiencing along Florida’s east coast. The three-phase plan will involve the development of a “new $10 million manatee hospital to treat and rehabilitate manatees for release.”

We have contacted Commissioner Smith for a statement on his comments at the meeting. He has answered:

What is needed is an assessment of the type of population the environment can sustain. A study of state carrying capacity. It has never been done. Therefore, no one knows if the manatee population has exceeded the capacity of the environment to support them. It’s been made for bears, deer, and even alligators. I live on the Indian River and watch them starve. It is terrible and heartbreaking. Their population has exceeded what the environment can support in my opinion. Ultimately, they are wild animals, not pets. They desperately need our help. They suffer and die.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tells us that manatees are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Agency officials told us about several ways people can help manatees, including:

  • When boating or using a personal watercraft, wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
  • Avoid navigating in shallow areas to prevent damage to seagrass beds and prevent manatees from resting and grazing.
  • Look for large circles on the water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.
  • Look for manatee snouts sticking out of the water.
  • Follow reported manatee areas while boating.
  • Report sightings of injured, distressed, sick, or dead manatees to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by dialing #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone so expert responders can help you.
  • There are many reputable organizations that could benefit from assistance with manatee-related conservation efforts, such as as members of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
  • You can also purchase a manatee license plate or donate $5 for a manatee sticker.

We also contacted ZooTampa, where representatives sent us a statement saying they supported “upgrading” the manatees from threatened to endangered. They sent a statement that said:

ZooTampa at Lowry Park is a leader in the conservation, protection and rehabilitation of manatees. As one of only 4 manatee critical care centers in the United States, we are at the forefront of helping with the current crisis facing this species. Manatees are in dire straits and face multiple threats including insufficient seagrass beds, habitat loss, pollution, climate change, collisions with watercraft and declining water quality. water. Our David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center has been operating at near capacity for over a year, providing round-the-clock care and rehabilitation to the most critically ill manatees across Florida, including record numbers orphan calves.

The current “endangered species” list offers protections for manatees, as does Florida law and the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, as experts in the field, ZooTampa supports listing manatees as “endangered” to maintain the necessary attention on the protection of this species. The loss of over a thousand manatees last year is deeply concerning and will have serious repercussions for years to come.

We will continue our commitment to play a vital role in conservation and education efforts, ensuring this remarkable species continues to be a part of Florida’s wild spaces for generations to enjoy.

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