SARASOTA - 637 Manatees. That's how many died in Florida in 2020. The FWC is reporting 432 Manatee deaths just in these first three months of 2021.  

"We’re very troubled to see the numbers as high as they are and we do think it is a sign of ecological collapse, one that we have been predicting and projecting for a long time because the nutrient pollution is nothing new,” said Florida Director of the Center for Biological Diversity, Jaclyn Lopez. 

But it does have deadly consequences. The biggest problem area is the Indian River lagoon, a 150 mile stretch of inland river system.  

“And when we have these cold weather snaps, manatees seek out for warm water, they need to, they need to find spaces where the water is warmer than what is going into the gulf or the Atlantic," said Lopez. 

The manatees not only look for warmer water, but food. Their main source is seagrass. But nutrient pollution has now resulted in a seagrass shortage. 

“They do require a lot of food, and with some massive losses over 50 thousand acres of sea grass have been lost since 2011, and has exacerbated more recently, they haven’t had a lot to eat going into the winter," said Aquatic Biologist and Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club, Patrick Rose. 

That leaves the manatees with two bad options: staying in their comfortable warm environment and dying of starvation, or going to look for food and then dying of cold stress. Rose says we can do our part by making sure nothing’s getting into the water that shouldn’t be there.

“It goes back to much sewage getting in through septic systems and less treated sewer to run off coming from parking lots, to lawns and fertilizers, and those kinds of things, they all add up and to a point they just can’t tolerate it and they collapse," said Rose. 

The FWC says if you see a sick, injured, dead or tagged manatee, you can call their wildlife alert toll-free number at (1-888-404-3922) or #FWC on a cellphone.