U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) called on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support Florida’s manatees as record numbers have died in 2021. He joined a bipartisan group of Florida legislators urging Administrator Richard Spinrad to take action against the declining water quality in the Indian River Lagoon that has resulted in a shortage of available food manatees rely on.
“Seeing manatees dying in record numbers as the result of a man-made issue is unacceptable,” Rep. Mast said. “In many ways, manatees are the canaries in a coal mine. Our manatees, our dolphins, our children all suffer when toxic algal blooms are sent into our estuaries, and it’s past time for the state legislature and federal government to take every possible step to stop the discharges and address the root causes of the problem.”
In the letter, legislators thanked Spinrad for designating the situation as an “unusual mortality event,” but pushed him to do more. Specifically, they called on NOAA to make federal funds available to address the causes of harmful algal blooms.
NOAA has the ability to designate the algal blooms as “Hypoxia or Harmful Algal Blooms of National Significance,” which triggers the availability of additional funds for mitigation efforts. This authority stems from a bill authored and passed by Rep. Mast called the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2018. The law also reauthorized the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act and directed NOAA to improve their monitoring of harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.
To date, 435 manatees have died in the Indian River Lagoon, likely due to the decrease in seagrass, a major food source for the mammals. The Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program has estimated a 52 percent decrease in seagrass since 2009, which it attributes to algal blooms and poor water quality.
Rep. Mast has been on the forefront of efforts to save the manatees. In May, he introduced bipartisan legislation, called the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act, which would help protect marine mammals like manatees, dolphins, seals and whales by increasing federal funding available for local governments and non-profit organizations to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals. The bill will also increase research on how to prevent the deaths.