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Nearly 2,000 Manatees Starved to Death

Environmental activists and organizations are seeking endangered status for the species after it was revoked in 2017.

Manatees in Florida have been dying from pollution-caused starvation by the hundreds. Environmental activists are now seeking to classify them as an endangered species.


In a petition released Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated it was an error to remove manatees from the Endangered Species List in 2017. Ragan Whitlock, attorney for the Florida-based Center for Biological Diversity, told NBC News that the it is crucial for the agency to reverse their decision.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service now has the opportunity to correct its mistake and protect these desperately imperiled animals," Whitlock said.

According to the petition, "pollution from fertilizer runoff, leaking septic tanks, and wastewater discharges" cause algae blooms that have devastated seagrass, the main source of food for manatees.

Manatees are dying from starvation in records numbers with 736 manatees reported dead as of November this year. In 2021, 1,100 manatees died, accounting for 13 percent of the species population.

Executive director of Miami Waterkeeper Rachel Silverstein, said: “With astounding losses of seagrasses around the state, we need to address water-quality issues to give the manatee a fighting chance to thrive and survive."

In the interim, state wildlife officials have experimented with feeding lettuce to manatees to sustain them. Around 202,000 pounds of lettuce were donated last year and fed to the manatees, but experts maintain that addressing pollution is the only long-term solution to save the species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service told NBC that they are “aware of the petition" and that "service staff will review the petition through our normal petition processes.” Their decision on whether or not reinstating manatees is warranted will come in the next 90 days. If they determine so, they will 12 months to completely review its status.

Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, said that placing manatees back on the Endangered Species List would protect them from development projects and return professional attention to the animal.

He said: “Re-designating manatees as endangered will be a critical first step in righting a terrible wrong."

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