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Manatee Die-Off In Indian River Lagoon Prompts Call For Federal Investigation

Credit: David Hinkle  USFWS
Credit: David Hinkle USFWS

Central Florida Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy is calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate a sharp spike in manatee deaths in the Indian River Lagoon. 

More than 400 manatees have died in Florida since the start of the year, with at least 30 percent of those in the ailing Indian River Lagoon. 

That’s a big increase. The average annual death count during the past five years had been just under 600 manatees. 

In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Murphy says she wants to know whether the die-off constitutes an Unusual Mortality Event. 

The designation would prompt a federal investigation aimed at determining the cause, minimizing more deaths and examining environmental factors. 

The manatees are believed to be starving, as recent harmful algae blooms in the Indian River Lagoon have led to a widespread loss of seagrass, the manatees’ primary food. 

The manatee was reclassified in 2017 as threatened rather than endangered. Some 7,000 of the animals are believed to be in Florida. 

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.