SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – There has been a record number of manatee deaths so far in 2021. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recorded 841 deaths between January 1 and July 2. That number surpasses the state’s annual record since the rear in 2013.
Scientists blame the poor water quality in the Indian River Lagoon. They say the lack of seagrass has finally taken its toll on the state’s manatee population.
The executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary program is concerned the Tampa Bay area may suffer the same fate with a red tide ravaging the area and seriously affecting water quality.
“Until fairly recently we were doing pretty well, but over the last couple of years we are actually moving in the wrong direction,” said Dr David Tomasko.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District found that Tampa Bay had recently lost 13% of its seagrass. Sarasota Bay is at its lowest in 12 years. It lost around 18% of its herbaria between 2018 and 2020.
Dr Tomasko says the bad bloom of the 2018 red tide is partly to blame.
“We can’t really afford to lose much more and we always look forward to supporting the manatee population, the green sea turtles and the fish population that we are used to seeing. We’ve always had a red tide, we will always have a red tide in the future, but what makes the red tide worse is what we call human-induced nutrient loads, ”said the executive director .
Experts told 8 On Your Side that toxins from the red tide do not directly impact seagrass. However, severe flowering for a prolonged period can have adverse consequences.
“The red tide makes the water very dark and if the water is very dark and it starts to heat up, that’s a problem for seagrass beds,” said Dr Tomasko.
Other local experts say that only time will tell how seagrass beds will withstand the high levels of the red tide.
“People compare what we’re going through now to 2018, but the 2018 red tide really kicked in at the end of summer in the middle of the rainy season,” the executive director said. “In June in Tampa Bay it was beautiful, it looks like the Caribbean, but by the time we got there in August and September it was really horrible. We are already starting the start of this rainy season with poorer quality water than we were in 2018 and that does not mean that we are going to follow the same trajectory, but we are starting the rainy season in a worse state than we started out of the rainy season in 2018 and that is worrying, ”he continued.