Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Manatee Crisis and a questionable solution

Manatees numbers are taken a very large dip in population. For those of you that do not know, the manatees are large herbivores that spend up to eight hours a day eating sea and estuary grasses.  The live on the border of fresh and seawater, able to graze in both.

There are 3 types, we don't have to go into them all, but all are endangered. Americans have Florida manatees, a sub-species of West Indian type (named for the West Indies due to Colobus' expertise in navigation) which live in Florida's waters. They don't have any natural aquatic predators, but are often killed by ecological problems or boat propellers. They were hunted by man for a while, but that has stopped, at least in Florida.

They cannot tolerate cold water, so in the winter they congregate in 4 estuaries of wide coastal rivers in Florida, most warmed by natural springs. And now they are dying off after decades of slow, but significant growth. 

Feeding wild animals is never science's first choice. IN fact, it is often a last resort. But in this case, the dearth of grasses in the rivers is due to man. Farm waste causes algae blooms in these rivers. And it has been extreme over the last few years. The manatees are not dying of overpopulation, but of the break down in sea grasses due to farm runoff. So nonprofits and scientists are planning delivering more seagrass to get them through the winter. In the spring they can forage again in salt water.

It is a fairly drastic step. It is similar to California Condors, which died mainly due to lead poisoning in bullets (they are scavengers and ate a lot of animals that died of gunshot wounds.  The difference is that we let Condor numbers go critical (less than 10 left alive at the beginning of the breeding programs) and we are trying to stop manatee deaths before it gets so critical.

But the long term solution must be to capture the runoff and remove phosphates (that drive algae blooms) BEFORE they hit these fresh water rivers. Without that, we will create a population dependent on humans.

And that is not a wild species anymore.

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