Manatee death rate skyrockets while Florida’s FWC covers up the cause & lies to tourist$
Updated: Sep 28
By Staci-lee Sherwood
The year 2021 ended much the way it started, with a mounting death rate for the manatees making this year a record breaker. At a whopping 1101 dead this is the highest mortality for endangered manatees in Florida. This is the official number but how many perished that no one recorded is anyone’s guess. The state agency charged with protecting this species and keeping them alive said starvation was the main cause for all these manatee deaths. As explained by the Florida Fish Wildlife Commission (FWC) the massive manatee die off was due to degraded water quality which killed off their food supply. We know things like this do happen in nature but this was a totally human caused tragedy.
The problem has been brewing for years with manatee mortality rising every year since they first started to record the deaths back in the 1990s. For many years the major cause of death were boat strikes and mortality was kept at a low rate of just a few. Slowly the number climbed to several hundred a year, for a population only found in Florida and numbering in the few thousands this is not sustainable. We now have a crisis we cannot get out of, the manatees are boxed in with nowhere to go. The water in the Indian River Lagoon is so toxic talk of declaring this body of water dead has taken a serious turn.
The chilling effect the manatee deaths bring is the fact there is no resolve to stop what is causing it. Years of spraying poisonous herbicides on vegetation they eat and into the water they live has caused permanent damage. It’s not possible to remove liquids from a liquid. Passing the buck from FWC to Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to the Army Corp of Engineers (ACE) has been the action these government agencies have spent the most time on. Loathe to actually fix the problem these taxpayer employees have only been consistent in their resistance to do their job for the wildlife their salaries are suppose to pay for. The policy of continuation in spite of science and public outrage makes the manatee population near impossible to rebound if they don’t get a break from being poisoned.
A common sight in 2021 dead manatees hauled away and out of public view . photo Katrina Garvin Shadix
Over that past few years Florida has made the national and sometimes international news for multiple wildlife atrocities. In 2015 there was a shooting over sea turtles in Broward county. In 2017 Florida made international news again when well known animal abusers, who have never been punished for their crimes, shot a shark while dragging him behind their boat. In 2021 once again the state made another shot heard around the world. This time the shot was against manatees they had lobbied hard to remove legal protection for just four years before.
Throughout 2021 the FWC made attempts at spinning the facts to fit their political agenda. Photos, videos and numerous eyewitness accounts of rib showing manatees starving for food and waterways filled with dead and dying manatees was too much to deny. The FWC knew they had to address the crisis. Finally after nearly a year they made a tepid attempt to assuage the public with claims they would start feeding manatees lettuce. Many eyewitness accounts by the public, who have taken to monitoring the manatees on their own due to lack of honesty and transparency by FWC, say most manatees reject the lettuce.
According to Gil McRae "We know that there's been some water quality issues in the Indian River Lagoon and the loss of sea grasses. We don't yet know whether that is a primary cause or just a secondary cause. And the job of the investigation is to work through all that," said Gil McRae, director at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, a division of FWC. However water quality issues have been known and documented for years as have the correlation with manatee deaths and sea turtles with fibropapiloma tumors. The wording of ‘some’ implies this is a manageable problem and one that can be fixed.
The FWC, FDEP and ACE routinely skirt the issue of herbicide use and toxicity to avoid the discussion of a ban on spraying chemicals. At every turn they try to control the narrative with words that mean nothing and continue to give false statements especially in light of the ongoing spraying. Here’s a speech I gave at a clean water rally about this very issue back in 2014 and those rallies had been going on for years.
To read the article McRae was quoted in click here
According to an email from Kelly Richmond who works for McRae when asked about the toxic chemical glyphosate being found in the tissue of manatees her response was ‘We have not tested any carcasses for glyphosate. UF conducted a study on serum from live captured manatees – please refer to them for any questions on this research. For information about the ongoing UME please visit:
The study ‘found glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and the world’s most-used pesticide, in the plasma of 55.8% of the Florida manatees sampled. The concentration of glyphosate in plasma has increased from 2009 to 2019.’ Logic would dictate that if more than half a species has toxic levels of a chemical it’s time to ban the use of that chemical. Click here to read the study https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412021001185
While many wonder how such blatant disregard for wildlife taxpayers pay them to protect can go on unfettered it’s because Florida has long been the poster child for corruption. The agency is filled with hunters and developers whose only agenda is to exploit the public’s natural resources for their own monetary gain and ego trip. The agency spends most of their time helping as many people as they can, including children, learn to kill animals. How a ‘conservation’ agency can reconcile killing native wildlife for kicks defies logic, sanity and common sense. For the most part the agency is considered a blight on the state and a symbol or corruption and lack of functionality.
The true master of the employees that work in the departments of Aquatic management including marine mammals would be the chemical companies that manufacture herbicides. The state pays these companies millions in annual contracts and they are the real puppet masters. Any voices of compassion and conservation at FWC are drowned out by the cha-ching of cash flowing into the coffers and then disappearing into ‘programs’. According to public records most FWC employees make a salary in the neighborhood of $35K so perhaps they feel entitled to take more than they are paid.
An interesting note is that several current FWC employees are also officers of a lobbying firm, The Florida Aquatic Plant Management Society (FAMPS). Two officers of this lobby firm are Nathalie Visscher Regional Biologist and Samantha Yuan both of whom work in the Invasive Plant Management Section of FWC. Joining them is Matt Phillips who is the Biological Administrator for the invasive plant management section who also happens to sit on the Governmental Affairs committee for FAPMS. This society has several companies that sit on their board while receiving million dollar contracts with the state. Other notable board members are Applied Aquatic Management, Inc. & Syngenta. The entire scenario is politically incestuous but helps to connect the dots.
Back in the summer of 2021 after the crisis had been going on for several months Phillips was asked, via a phone conversation with an advocate, what the FWC plans to do to help the manatees. His glib response of ‘yeah I’m just sitting here killing manatees’ shows the true agenda of FWC. Ironically this was probably a more honest response than anything they put out for public consumption.
This lobby firm seems to have a lot of influence over state policy regarding herbicide use. They must have a hold over the FWC policy and decision makers who defy both science and public pressure by continuing to spray their product.
Public records show that Matt Phillips has an annual salary $60,901. By sitting on the board it appears that Phillips violates state ethics law.
The 2021 Florida Statues
Title X Public Officers Employees and Records
112.313 Standards of conduct for public officers, employees of agencies, and local government attorneys.
(6) MISUSE OF PUBLIC POSITION.—No public officer, employee of an agency, or local government attorney shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others.
It should be cause for termination of employment for any state employee to also hold office with any organization or society that does business with the state. In particular it appears to be an egregious overreach for employees who work in the invasive aquatic section of FWC to be part of a lobby firm with members of pesticide companies they award contracts to. For many the conflict of interest is obvious but then again it’s Florida. Click here to read about state ethics law
Two other state employees also sit on the board one can only imagine what motivates them. Nathalie Visscher $46,935 and Samantha Yuan
To see where your tax dollars are going check out more salaries of Florida employees here https://govsalaries.com/salaries/FL/fish-and-wildlife-conservation-commission
The spraying of herbicides on aquatic vegetation that kills the food source for manatees is the main culprit for the massive die off there are other factors. The Treasure Coast Palm newspaper did an investigation that found that ‘all 32 drainage basins around Lake Okeechobee with available data exceeded phosphorus limits. The ABC News affiliate in Tampa Bay, WFTS, reported that since 2019 the state had referred thousands of pollution cases to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, but “just two have led to enforcement cases.” Both of them, seeking the maximum $50,000, were still in progress.’ This agency is no better at enforcing laws designed to protect both natural resources and citizens drinking water. Their style of doing the people business takes a page from the FWC.
In response to this ongoing crisis The Center for Biological Diversity has filed suit to force the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Fish & Wildlife to jointly address the polluted water issue. Below is one of countless manatee calves rescued by FWC
Katrina Garvin Shadix, founder of Bears Warriors United, has been one of the advocates trying to bring sanity to the manatee crisis. She posted this to show how impossible it is to get a straight answer from those in charge. Sarah Barrett is staffer with FWC. When I spoke with Richmond about their plans to keep the manatees from further starving she said they were eating well and were being fed Romaine and Butter Leaf lettuce from a local grower. I said I hoped it was organic and non GMO. I asked why they weren’t feeding them Hydrilla and she responded by saying they chose the lettuce because of the ‘fat’ content.
This seems to contradict citizen accounts that state the manatees are not fairing so well. The truth is the lettuce is cheap, perhaps a cozy deal was also made with the grower, and will not save the species. The actions by the FWC have shown a willful lack of concern and knowledge and demonstrate the true end game of causing the extinction of manatees. All the actions by FWC point to that:
* Their choice of non nutritional lettuce over hydrilla and water hyacinth
*Their refusal to stop spraying herbicide on those plants and in the water
*Their priority given to herbicide companies and the money involved over the health and safety of manatees, marine life and the humans that drink and swim in the toxic water
*FDEP total lack of enforcement regarding septic tanks
*Constant passing the buck and failure to have act in the interest of manatees as opposed to their own
At the Titusville City Council meeting Dr Wanda Jones explains why manatee won’t and shouldn’t be eating lettuce and why they need to eat their natural food Hydrilla and Water Hyacinth. The FWC behaves like a rabid dog when it comes to these two plants they refuse to stop spraying them with deadly herbicide. There isn’t one person at this agency that doesn’t know they are killing both the manatees directly and indirectly by poisoning and killing the food they eat and the water they live in. If this isn’t prosecutable criminal negligence than what is ? Please have a listen to the truth click video below
This is what state employees think up to help manatees. It’s all just a game of bait and switch.
Visible in plain view for the public is the propaganda from FWC none of which is remotely true. “The FWC’s guiding conservation goal for the Florida manatee is to effectively manage the wildlife resource in perpetuity throughout Florida by securing habitat and minimizing threats. In order to accomplish this goal, the species must recover from a threatened status and be effectively protected so that manatees can endure future impacts that can affect their population including: large-scale die-offs from red tide and cold stress, human-related impacts, and loss of important winter habitats.”
In 2017 this agency lobbied to have manatees REMOVED from the Endangered Species Act. This removed their legal protection and allowed the state to sit back and do nothing. It will be impossible for a species that has lost about 20-25% of their population in one year, including calves, to fully recover without immediate emergency acts. These would include an immediate MORATORIUM OF ALL SPRAYING of any chemical in EVERY body of water. This has not and will not be done.
The starvation is arguably the exclusive result of gross incompetence by the government employees in charge of the manatee program. Their ineptitude exemplifies criminal negligence and their lies continue… “The FWC and conservation partners monitor several population-related factors that provide important insights regarding the ability of manatees to cope with current threats and future changes. For example, information gathered from the FWC’s manatee rescue and necropsy program provides a window for the public to better understand the state of manatee health and vulnerabilities.” The only time the FWC staff respond in a timely fashion, or even at all, is to haul dead manatees out of the water before the tourists see them.
One of the FWC employees involved in this network of what seems like deliberate misinformation and fraud is Michelle Renee Pasawicz who makes $54,127. She is a biologist and Admin for the Manatee Management Program but is less likely to respond to questions than a former CIA spook. Perhaps all the public scrutiny and media attention has her hiding from inquiring minds. She was or is involved with Sea Turtles as well which is another species being killed off by this agency. There seems to be a theme here.
Citizens in action is one of the best and easiest ways to get your point across. Attending public meetings and spending 2 minutes voicing your concern for how the government is spending your tax dollars can sometimes have a positive effect on policy. Florida has always been known as one of the most corrupted states often the poster child for how to not govern. Hearings have taken place but the questions by the public have gone unanswered and the demands to stop spraying poison in the water have fallen on deaf ears.
Private citizens speak out at the City of Titusville council meeting to advocate for manatees and clean water. Photo Bear Warriors United
The picture below was taken by Bear Warriors United's drone, they show manatee necropsies being performed at the dump in 2021
Manatee mom and calf as they should be living
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” John Stuart Mill
If you would like to voice your concern for the ongoing use of herbicide please contact the following
Matt Phillips Invasive Aquatic Plants Div FWC Mattv.email@example.com 850-617-9430
Michelle Pasawicz admin for Manatee program FWC firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to get involved check these groups out :
Bear Warrior’s United their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/bearwarriorsunited/about/?ref=page_internal
Or (407) 702-3576 email@example.com
Fight 4 zero
To view videos about the manatee & water crisis from Mike Knepper https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1CEpyh59KEmYRonq1q4J7A
If you would just like to share the video of Dr. Wand Jones talking about the lettuce VS hydrilla feeding click this link