PORT ST. JOHN, FL – A record number of manatees have died this year, more than a thousand, and conservation groups warn hundreds more will die from starvation and illness, the result of Florida’s toxic sewage and polluted waters.
At a memorial service today in Port St. John, participants are encouraged to wear black as they kayak or paddleboard near a Florida Power and Light plant, where an experimental feeding site will be set up to help feed the slow-moving manatees that used to graze on seagrass.
Katrina Shadix, executive director of the group Bear Warriors United, said after a massive loss of habitat, she wished officials had moved faster to approve a federal supplemental feeding program.
“The starvation deaths never stopped for the manatees,” Shadix observed. “They decreased, and that’s because two-thirds of the population migrated out. But for the one-third that call the Northern Indian River Lagoon home all year round, they have had no food. So, they’ve continued to starve, they’ve continued to be pulled lifeless from the river.”
Federal and state officials have launched a temporary field response station in Brevard County, adding small amounts of lettuce to the water. Still, the few animals spotted this week were not seen eating the leafy greens, according to a Florida Wildlife Commission spokesperson.
The memorial service starts at noon at the Port St. John Boat Ramp.
Shadix commended the work of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife officials. She pointed out they are often put in the position of having to clean up after what she calls the “failed policies” of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“The algal blooms killed off the seagrass, which caused the manatees to starve,” Shadix explained. “If we want to get back down to it, it’s all about development and the DEP’s lack of regulation of the sewage that goes into the Indian River Lagoon.”
Shadix filed a 60-day letter of intent to sue the DEP over the pollution. She believes state officials began the feeding program because of the legal pressure her group is exerting, citing a possible violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Other groups, including EarthJustice and Save the Manatee Club, have announced their intent to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect the threatened species.