top of page
  • Writer's pictureStaci-lee Sherwood

For the florida manatee it IS a state of emergency

Updated: Oct 29, 2022

By Staci-lee Sherwood

As long as I can remember manatees have been in trouble. For much of the 1970s and 80s boat strikes were the most common cause of injury and death. Since 1974 the annual death rate has steadily increased every year. Unbelievably Florida and the US Fish and Wildlife agency (USFWS) decided in 2017 this warranted a delisting and removal of legal protection making our beloved manatees more vulnerable to population collapse. The agency took the action, Patrick Rose Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club said, “despite the fact a majority of their scientific peer reviewers felt that the move was premature from a biological standpoint.”

Despite disturbing trends that included significant habitat loss, USFWSwent ahead with this misguided decision. In March 2021 a study was published showing that 55.8% of the Florida manatees sampled had Glyphosphate, a commonly used herbicide, in their tissue. A revision of critical habitat was warranted but the Service never revised the manatee’s critical habitat.

A law is just words on paper and without any funding and enforcement can be rendered useless. Nevertheless as long as a law remains on the books there is always potential use. Now there is none. Over the years a newer more insidious danger has come on the scene in two forms; Red Tide and Cyanobacteria.

Red Tide is thought to be naturally occurring but has become far more frequent and deadly. While the public calls it ‘red tide’ it’s actually called harmful algal blooms, or HABs, which occur when colonies of algae—simple plants that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control while producing toxic effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. Just what causes them to grow out of control is up for debate though all the dumping of human sewage, oil, pesticides and agriculture chemicals probably contributes. This is primarily the problem on the west coast but another danger awaits the manatees on the east coast and it’s called Cyanobacteria.

The east coast is often overwhelmed with Cyanobacteria, often called blue-green alage, which thrives on a recipe of nitrogen, phosphorus and warm water. These are the chemicals found in fertilizer used on lawns and agricultural which contribute to aquatic “dead zones” in coastal areas from runoff. Since Florida is warm year round the amount of fertilizer that ends up in the water is more then would be found in colder climates. This means the water is constantly being saturated with toxins. Added to that the huge phosphate mining industry which encompasses over 1 million acres that also leaks into our waterways.

No one really knows the extent of runoff from mining, lawns and farms but it’s enough to cause almost yearly massive marine life die off which includes fish, sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and manatees. For humans that breathe in the air that surround a bloom, touch the water or consume fish from the water the consequences can be just as deadly. For manatees it has been the nightmare that keeps on giving,

Cyanobacteria is deadly by itself. Exposure for the manatee comes from breathing in the air near a bloom, swimming in toxic water and eating vegetation growing in it. You’ll know it when you see and smell it the water takes on a vile smell and a caustic shade of neon green. As if this toxic soup wasn’t enough the state also sprays herbicides on aquatic vegetation. Among the plants deemed enemy of the state is Hydrilla, though Seagrass is the main food source manatees will eat this plant. Despite FWC and the companies they hire knowing this they spray the poison on these plants anyway. This not only kills the plants but is deadly for the manatees who eat them. Now the stage is set for unprecedented crisis of 2021.

A new study published in March 2021 sheds more light on the possible causes for the sick and dying manatees. While 90% of their food source has been killed by spraying the type of chemicals sprayed is also of grave and confusing concern. In an ironic twist the most popular herbicide used by FWC is Diquat dibromide. The study shows how Bromide molecules detected in Cyanobacteria found on Hydrilla were made more toxic when sprayed with Diquat which contains Bromide. This causes the Cyanobacteria blooms to be more dangerous to all living creatures. Attempts to get an answer from FWC as to why they spray a toxin known to cause the explosion of Cyanobateria have gone unanswered. The EU banned Diquat and all products containing it in 2018.

All this spraying and dumping has finally bubbled up to where the die-off is officially classified as an unusual mortality event. But, said Rose, it has been an unusual event among unusual events. We are talking about three times the mortality that occurs even in years that are affected by red tide and cold stress, in addition to watercraft injuries.”

A new cause of death among manatees has emerged: starvation. “Until recently, the availability of food had never been an issue for manatees,” Rose said. “But along stretches of the east coast, including the Indian River Lagoon, we have lost 90 percent of the seagrass.” A whopping 870+ manatees have died between january and july 2021

An interesting note is that several current FWC employees are also officers of a lobbying firm the florida aquatic plant management society. Two officers are Nathalie Visscher Regional Biologist FWC and Samantha Yuan both of whom work in Invasive Plant Management Section. Then we have Matt Phillips who is the Biological Administrator for the invasive plant management section for fwc while also sitting on the Governmental Affairs committee for a lobbying firm that gets contracts with them. Where does he find the time. Other notable board members are Applied Aquatic Management, Inc. & Syngenta.

According to financial tracking documents from the state of florida these contracts that Applied Aquatics has with FWC are worth millions yes millions and that’s the type money people will kill you for.

In ancient times manatees were often mistaken for mermaids by sailors. Unfortunately for manatees the magical myth of mermaids will not be able to stave off extinction as long as Florida continues down the road of dumping into the waterways and their addiction to spraying poison continues unfettered.

Ways to help our dying manatees now :

· Contact FWC and request they stop spraying toxic herbicides immediately Matt Phillips Phone, 850-617-9430 & Michelle Pasawicz admin for manatee program email

· Stop using chemicals on your lawns.

· All sick and injured Manatees should immediately be reported to FWC at 1-888-404-3922

· If you are part of a HoA educate them.

· All of these tips and more can be found on our website at

If you would prefer to listen click this link

published September 7, 2021

86 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page