T. Edward Nickens
July 27th, 2021
I was driving to Homosassa for three days of tarpon fishing when I heard on the radio about an ongoing and massive die-off of Florida’s manatees. The report was horrifying. From January 1 to July 16 of this year, 866 manatees died in Florida. That’s the highest number on record. Most of the deaths occurred in the Indian River Lagoon, the famed estuary that sprawls from Cape Canaveral to Stuart and encompasses one-third of the state’s East Coast. The Indian River Lagoon is subject to massive toxic overflows from Lake Okeechobee and ungodly amounts of runoff from development and septic systems, among other ills, and it has lost most of its natural seagrass beds. Manatees eat seagrass. In the last seven months, one out of seven Florida manatees has died, mostly from starvation.
I was stunned. Starving manatees? By the hundreds? I stopped the truck and sat with the engine running, sick to my stomach, trying to shake the image of a manatee foraging on a barren bay bottom, desperate for food.
It’s not that I’m unaccustomed to Florida’s water woes. I follow the state’s environmental struggles closely. But for the love of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, how much worse can things get?