The West Indian manatee is an example of evolution optimizing for one thing: taking time to slow down and munch the seagrass. They have no natural predators, just humans and their boat propellers. Individual animals can be identified by the unique pattern of scars on their backs. Their thick skin has kept them going, but maybe not for much longer.
Florida’s manatees are on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species because “the population is estimated to decline by at least 20% over the next two generations due to anticipated future changes in warm-water habitat and threats from increasing watercraft traffic over the next several decades.”
But even slow or no-wake zones and better boater education may not be enough to save the Florida manatee. Another kind of man-made threat – runoff and pollution – is destroying their seagrass beds. More manatees died last year in Florida than ever before recorded.
I came home for the holidays to South Florida, where my parents live on the Intracoastal Waterway. Every year around this time, we see many manatees go past the house, heading south to warmer water.
But this year, I was puzzled. Where were all the manatees? Then I read about the record die-off in the state of Florida in 2013 – 829 dead manatees, out of an estimated total population of 5,000. That’s more than one in six of all the manatees in the state. And 173 of the dead were breeding-age females, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute.
Read more at The Guardian > (Sadly, they took out the picture of Dad and Bubba and replaced it with “professional” AP/Reuters photos. You can’t have everything.)
Original story in the Earth Island Journal >