STUART, Fla. — There have been a record number of manatee deaths in Florida so far this year.
Saturday, environmentalists rallied for the health of area waterways that these creatures call home.
Advocates say the Indian River Lagoon is one of Florida's most important estuaries. But they said it has suffered a series of harmful algal blooms that could be leading to a major decrease in seagrass, an important food source for manatees.
They raised awareness through a rally that was held at the Ernie Lyons bridge in Stuart. It was put on by River Kidz, part of the Rivers Coalition. Their aim is to stop freshwater discharges into the St. Lucie River from Lake Okeechobee that often have negative impacts in the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie Estuary.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 670 manatees have died across the state of Florida already in 2021. More than the 637 that died all of 2020.
“All these cascading effects cause nanoplankton blooms and brown algal blooms. That blocks out sunlight and we have no sunlight, the seagrass can’t photosynthesize and dies. Then it dies and adds to the nutrient load, and it’s just a disastrous cycle of death,” said Mike Conner, Indian Riverkeeper.
“We need clean water in our rivers. We need to send the water south from Lake Okeechobee into the everglades. Where it naturally flows instead of sending it to east and west into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. We need it to flow south,” said Kiele Mader, River Kidz member.
The non-profit says they are urging state lawmakers to create legislation that would steer Florida into cleaner water solutions and set a high bar for reducing pollution.