Have We Set Up The Manatees To Starve & Die???
Did you know that manatees consume hundreds of thousands of pounds of seagrass by themselves a year?
But with a healthy amount of seagrass (and manatees that actually moved south in the winter like they are naturally supposed to do), this wasn’t a problem as our seagrass had time to recover and thrive.
However, our seagrass is disappearing at a scary rate and even the new grass is having trouble growing.
As you probably guessed, humans might be the ones to blame…
Listen in as we uncover some very interesting facts about the manatees, the harm that power plants play, and some potential solutions.
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Have We Set Up The Manatees To Starve & Die [PODCAST]
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- WHAT COULD BE CAUSING THE SEAGRASS TO DIE OFF?
- USING POLLUTION MAPPING TO SAVE THE INDIAN RIVER LAGOON
Studies & Reports Mentioned:
Here is a timestamped version:
- 2:01 – Current Florida Seagrass Situation
- 3:42 – Tyler Jones joins the Salt Strong Podcast
- 6:24 – How did we get to this point in the Indian River Lagoon?
- 11:40 – East Coast of Florida Manatee Migration
- 14:15 – Atlantic Coast Manatee Populations
- 18:13 – Manatee Feeding Program
- 21:46 – Manatee Diets
- 26:45 – Artificial Barriers & Management Solutions
- 28:08 – North Indian River Lagoon
- 29:40 – How Dollars Are Being Spent
- 30:53 – Seagrass Growth & Recovery
- 35:06 – Mosquito Impoundments
- 40:22 – Tampa Bay Seagrass
This Is Destroying Seagrass [VIDEO]
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Seagrass is vital to sustaining biomass and manatee populations, however, we need to reach a comfortable balance for the future of marine ecosystems.
Fertilizers, insecticides, and power plant locations have impacted manatee migration and seagrass populations immensely.
We must make changes now to maintain a future for marine life in our waters.
Do you have any questions on what is destroying the seagrass?
Let us know down in the comments!
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You mentioned that they usually migrate south, where I would guess there’s more grass now due to the lack of migration. Why not relocate about 100 , to that location, tag them and see if migration resumes then if it resumes may be worth massive relocation and setting up barriers to decrease laying over
This FL Statute 379.2431 (Marine animals; regulation) is related to this discussion, especially as it identifies certain power plants and their manatee zones . . . https://www.flsenate.gov/laws/statutes/2012/379.2431
These sites change over time by re-powering projects and some have been decommissioned (e.g., Vero Beach power plant; that one is unique as it was a municipal owned facility, and the site was was not acquired by FPL so that VB could develop it into a public park). I don’t believe most sites owned by electric utilities will cease to be used for generating power as siting a new power plant is an arduous task that can take years, and may never be granted the necessary permits. Also, some newer generating technologies no longer require intake or discharge of water for cooling. Because FL is a peninsula, it’s topography makes its power flows inherently less stable since it doesn’t have a grid of interconnected transmission facilities like most other utilities, and relies heavily on its 500kv transmission lines to move bulk power to South Florida. One can see planned changes to Florida’s generating fleet by looking at FPL-Gulf Power Ten Year Power Plan Site Plan 2020-2029 . . . http://www.investor.nexteraenergy.com/~/media/Files/N/NEE-IR/investor-materials/supplemental-resources/florida-power-and-light/FPL-GulfPower-TenYearSitePlan_2020-2029.pdf
Excellent podcast. What it boils down to was first pointed out back in 1970 in the cartoon Pogo – “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The human population of the world has tripled in my lifetime and the consequences of that are widespread. As others have pointed out, the problem is a complex one but, in all its various forms, the initiating insult is human-induced. As the human population grows it is only going to get worse…. Unfortunately, most humans will always value themselves above everything else.
I enjoyed this discussion.
I have lived on the IRL in Vero full time since November 2019.
Before that just on the weekends since 2017.
So I don’t really have the full picture of the history of the sea grass around here.
I have heard from several people, who I deem credible, that it the downfall started after the 2010 freeze.
I have observed that this time of year the sea grass starts to grow in many areas while the water is still fairly clear. Then manatees show up and do eat some of the grass. I do notice in areas where it is too shallow for manatees, the grass grows better. However, when it starts to rain (end of May usually), the water clouds up and the grass no longer gets enough light and this seems to kill most of the grass that had just started to get going. Right now we are still in a grass growing phase. However, the water is already getting pretty murky and the grass may start to die sooner this year.
The other thing I have noticed is the bait. This fall and spring we have had lots of bait, mostly mullet but pilchards and glass minnows too. What is lacking in my estimation are the predators. In the fall, there was a complete lack of predators chasing all these baits. This week the same thing. Tons of pilchards and mullet and nothing eating them. The mullet and pilchards are feeding on something they like floating in the water mostly on the surface. I can’t for the life of me understand why there are so few jacks, ladyfish, tarpon, trout, reds or snook taking advantage of this abundance of bait. In past years, the fishing was much better for me.
Another observation is that on a west wind I can many times smell chemicals in the air. I assume this is from some kind of herbicide being used to kill weeds.
This can’t be good for the fish or sea grass or humans or anything really.
I am not sure if anyone else has experienced this or not.
Finally, I have observed on many occasions manatees eating the mangrove leaves and roots all around my house. I have seen one juvenile manatee that seems to at times prefer to eat mangrove roots and leaves over the grass.
This one doesn’t look to be missing any meals either. The branches they eat seem to die. Then the branch falls into the water and gets oysters on it. Then about a year later the branch dries up and lifts out of the water. So you will see a dead branch with oysters well above the high tide mark. It’s very bizarre to see but when you do, you can bet it started with a manatee eating that branch.
I have no answers, just my unscientific observations based on my limited experience.
Realizing the mere mentioning of this probably is beyond taboo and would no doubt create a firestorm. You have to wonder if the state’s manatee population shouldn’t be brought under control via management since they have no natural predators that seemingly can handle it? Hard to think about…
Finally someone has addressed a HUGE problem about manatees and seagrass. Your podcast is great, but there are other issues that aren’t really being addressed. I’ve lived on the St. Johns River for 30 years and manatees destroy the grass before it can grow inches off the bottom, and it’s like that throughout the length of the river. Tournament bass anglers simply can’t find any to fish. Spawning fish of multiple species are impacted. So are baitfish, crabs, shrimp, and multitudes of other aquatic life that is vital to the river. Grass beds are the lifeblood of the river, and there are impacts from manatees that are simply not discussed. 1) do manatees pull out grass beds by the roots, and thus kill or severely impair it’s growth? 2) Would it not be more cost effective and environmentally sound to move, transport manatees to many of Florida’s waters that are jammed with invasive weeds instead of spraying herbicides on the weeds? Weeds are a cleansing agent of the waters, and when they are removed, the water quality suffers, water becomes more dark and silty, and photosynthesis for regeneration of grass beds is impacted. A further consequence of no grass are shoreline life, especially birds, which rely on grass to produce food….a multitude of birds, from ospreys, eagles, kingfishers, herons, seagulls, even owls and countless ducks need the grass and the life they contain to flourish. This issue has many deadly threads that are not being explored properly, and impact many more things than simply manatees starving. And there are economic consequences, from commercial fishing diminishing to guides, marinas, etc. when the grass is gone.
Yup, sea cows eating the grass. And native grass is a critical component to water bodies. But it’s been documented pretty-well over the decades that the SJR has bigger problems (pollution). That’s the true underlying cause.
Blaming manatees is just making them the convenient scapegoat at this late stage of the death spiral, maybe not much different that a house burning down, and a good Samaritan tries to mitigate; authorities show up on the scene, “Hey! YOU STARTED THE FIRE!” LOL Well, maybe not a good analogy, but you get the gist.
The idea of maybe moving manatees around to different water bodies to combat vegetative over-growth (in lieu of chemicals) is not lost on me. I proposed that during a workshop. “Yeah, that would work. [chuckle] Next question, anyone?”
‘Man’, as George writes, tends to create these massive negative impacts, almost always with a short-sighted, economic focus. Long-term economics (as you touch on) needs to be considered at the outset (ie, ‘cradle-to-grave’), but it’s easier to push that more-thoughtful approach aside by greasing enough palms, etc. etc. for the short-term profits. If they even acknowledge the potential future disaster, “Well, that will be somebody else’s problem.”
For now, tho – on so many of the state’s enviro issues – do we want to address symptoms? Or the root causes? And at what allowable expense, given all the other [real] ‘critical’ issues that abound?
Bob, an excellent understanding of the issues for a complex problem. Anyone listening to this video podcast would understand that NO ONE is blaming the manatees for triggering the loss of seagrass. Justin did an excellent job laying out his view that the most serious degradation began around 2009-2010, and impacted again around 2015. But to ignore that the IRL now has a tiny fraction of the seagrass it once had, and some presumably thinking that an enlarging herd of manatees can be supported on a drastically reduced food supply is beyond my comprehension. It’s like planting a vast field of juvenile plants, and then letting a giant herd of cattle out to graze it. Surprise, the juvenile plants are destroyed and re-growth of any stubbles is unlikely, especially if the grazing continues. This is what people are saying, NOT THAT THE MANATEES ARE TO BLAME FOR THE CONSEQUENCES OF PAST YEARS OF POLLUTION (like dumping sewage in our waterways which is partly to blame for the sludge build up on the bottom), as well as the current problems (storm water runoff draining into the waterways, old leaking septic tanks, etc.).
Something I think about is the ever encroaching Manatee zones that now nearly covers the entire IRL. Other than a few minor exceptions, from Sebastian to Ft. Pierce, the only areas that allow a boat to get on plane is the ICW channel, and some of that has restricted speeds during the winter months. This may explain why the herd may have been smaller in decades past since that was the argument for instituting those widening protective zones. Setting aside juvenile Manatees, I don’t see any natural predators that would keep the population in balance relative to their seagrass food supply. I’ve never witnessed a healthy juvenile Manatee being attacked by sharks but suppose it could happen. And nature’s way of dealing with over population when the food supply is insufficient is to thin the herd. It happens to humans and wildlife. Justin’s correct recollection about the extreme cold snap as a possible triggering event resulting in a semi-collapse of an already seriously stressed ecosystem seems more rationale than engaging in rich vs. poor, greed, developers, and other bogeymen blame games. Taxing the rich (wherever someone subjectively draws that line) allows the transfer payments which many in our economic system depend upon, and far more generous than found in Marxist societies. That’s a welcome debate for another time but I don’t believe this is causing or related to the IRL’s loss of seagrass. There are plenty of big corporate and non-profit organizations feeding at the red-blue campaign funding trough but that goes both ways, and financial reform is sadly needed to prevent do-nothing politicians from keeping public concern issues alive so they generate more campaign funding in future years.
And the politically motivated feeding stations setup by the FWC only concentrates the Manatees into areas which stresses already taxed seagrass areas. Somehow the logic the FWC preaches to the public about the harm done by feeding wild animals somehow doesn’t apply to them – – it’s not about who is feeding them, but about whether this is a sound and sustainable practice. And with the rate of Manatee deaths this year on a path to surpass the record amount last year, there is no evidence this is the path to stay on.
Thanks, guys, for the heads up on the subject of sea grass as our sustainable resource for our fisheries. I was out again in Boca Ciega Bay yesterday and have been fishing Tampa Bay area for years and have seen the seagrass decline and ultimately the fishing decline. Slow speed signs up now in so many places that haven’t been before saying Manatee watch zones even on private docks. it’s truly a problem to contend with and at this time we don’t have the answers. The places we use to catch fish are now very sparse in the amount of seagrass also. The health of the bay is also suffering as we know and the red tide incidents in the last 3 years have devastated fish populations. I’m sad to see this as growing up here we had a bountiful harvest and now it’s deplorable. I hope we can find the answers. Thanks to SS for all you do…Ski
Tampa Bay was basically a dying sewer in the 70’s Jan but, with several strong efforts THOUSANDS of acres of healthy seagrass have been added & the water quality markedly improved. In the last 25 years, sewage spills, Red Tide, & the Piney Point debacles have done some true damage. We are blessed to have the tides we have, as they truly help take some of the pollutants out of the bay. I totally agree that we need to remain vigilant & continue to do all we can to help the extremely wonderful estuary & fishery that Tampa Bay & it’s surrounding waters are !
Well said George and Al. We all acknowledge there is a problem. More than manatees and their diet is the need to take care of our waters so we can return to a balance in sea grass growth and habitat for all inshore species. Both Luke and Joe have clearly presented their case and continue to search for science-based data and solutions to present to their audience. Well done Salt Strong for doing a deep dive on this subject … we need this to make informed decisions and advocate for sound solutions.
Very interesting podcast, thanks for discussing a MOST important subject ! I wonder how we, as humans would react if within 10 years, only 1/2 of our food supply was available ??? Would there be an increase in deaths, homelessness, murders, panic, mass epidemics, etc., I would surmise so. Where would the fingers be pointed, at ourselves, simply because we must eat to survive ?? The rich would of course show concern BUT, most would certainly put themselves first for as long as possible. The so-called powers that be, who were not directly affected in the short term, especially financially, would most certainly carry on as usual, pointing fingers & accusing others of who knows what for the degradation of life.
GREED ($$$$$) is the root of our problems my friends. Oh yes, we have had significant population growth in the Lagoon area & that benefits the economy BUT, development of communities has exploded in such an unrestricted way that Nature just can’t handle the overload. FINANCIAL GAIN ($$$$$) in the short term has over ridden any common sense decisions in regard to the health of the Lagoon system. When I presented a NO GRASS lawn program to the Brevard County Commissioners many years ago, I got ONE, ya ya ok response & that was it. I certainly don’t have all the answers however, if phosphorous based fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, fungicide use were reduced by 75%, WOULD it stand to reason that, the Lagoon MIGHT have a chance to get somewhat back to it’s former self ??????????????
Sorry so long & boring, I’m just an old man who is not a tree hugger, just someone who LOVES what GOD created !!!! Man is the most destructive animal on Earth, bar none !!!
<< NO GRASS lawn program…GREED…FINANCIAL GAINS short term…>>
Yup, same here in Seminole County. I got rid of my lawn decades ago (in the Wekiva River Protection Area, and live on a lake), I call it ‘zero-scape’ (LOL)…mulched, minimal, mostly-natural plantings that are self-sustaining/sufficient/draught-tolerant/non-fertilized, etc. [the critters around here LOVE it!] PLUS…gives me more time to do ‘the good things’. Win-Win. This ain’t rocket science!
The county biologists loved the idea at the time, as they were in-process of putting such a thing into their plans they were going to present as part of master plan. All shot down once it was presented to the BoCC, because such common-sense/sustainable, low-maintenance landscapes…well, they just don’t sell million-dollar homes. So, George, as you eloquently allude to, MONEY TALKS, everything else walks…including these great biologists who were trying to do the right thing here, but got slapped in the face, and ‘walked’ to join out-of-state organizations where they could actually help-effect positive outcomes. Business-as-usual approach, by our elected con-artists. We’re pretty famous for that in my area, just keep an eye on the news! LOL
FISHERMEN ESPECIALLY…check your politics-brand at the door, and take a hard, honest look at the pols you enable. Because what we love is going-away fast if we don’t get the right folks in office who will do more than just lip-service.
So great you guys continue to cover environment and conservation. Thank you and keep up the great work!