Why Is the Manatee Population Dwindling in Florida?: The Hard Facts You Need to Know

Manatee swimming under a dock

Manatees are dying at an alarming rate. So much so that 2021 has already broken the record for the death toll of manatees, and the year isn’t over yet. This threatened population is back on its way to being classified as an endangered species unless we do something about it.

So why is the manatee population declining so rapidly? 

Keep reading our page to learn more about the Florida manatee population, why their numbers are decreasing so fast, and how it’s affecting our ecosystem. We’ll also go over the ways that you and other kind people can help to save the manatees. 

The Declining Manatee Population

From January 1st to July 2nd of this year, the death toll of these gentle mammals is up to a staggering 841 manatees, and the year still hasn’t ended.

If you’re not familiar with the manatee population in recent years, it might help to compare the mortality rates of this year with some previous years. For the full year of 2020, there were a total of 354 manatee deaths, and in 2019 there were 319. 

The past two years combined still don’t compare to the mortality rate of 2021. Due to these statistics, the Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) has made manatee conservation even more of a priority to prevent further increased death tolls of these animals. 

Why Is the Manatee Population Falling?

Have you ever wondered why manatees are also called "sea cows"? Just like cows, manatees are herbivores, but their diet consists primarily of seagrass and various other plant life underwater. Unfortunately, seagrass is disappearing, leaving manatees without a source of food. 

In recent years, the quality of Florida’s water has rapidly declined due to human pollutants and frequent algal bloom spikes. Pollutants, such as run-off sewage and fertilizers, are triggering the growth of toxic algae in our bays, lakes, and coastal waters.

This excess algae causes a nutrient imbalance in the waters and takes away important nutrients that seagrass and other plants need to survive. Too much algae also restricts the amount of sunlight that reaches these aquatic plants. As a response, everything below the surface begins to suffer. 

Another significant threat to the manatee population is boating collisions. In recent years, the percentage of manatee deaths caused by boating-related incidents has decreased thanks to the implementation of boater education and slow-speed zones.

However, the mortality rate is still high and boaters should use extreme caution when out on the water. 

Manatees in the Ecosystem

Manatees are crucial members of our ecosystem, and if their population continues to decrease, our environment will feel the consequences. These gentle giants prevent the overgrowth of underwater vegetation and their waste helps to keep it fertilized, creating a perfect balance.

Areas that have overgrown vegetation can block off waterways and affect the other organisms underwater. Manatees help to keep the plant life balanced, and they also eat invasive species, like the water hyacinth.

How You Can Help!

Now that you know why the manatee population is falling, you can help too! By taking these actions and spreading the word, we can help prevent the manatee population from decreasing anymore. 

Clean Up the Water

The first step to saving the manatees is by improving the water quality. Consider volunteering alone or with a group to clean up the waterways in your area. Also, always be conscious of your waste and avoid using fertilizers and pesticides.

People with septic systems should be sure to have their systems serviced annually. Failing septic systems can cause waste to get into the groundwater, which can make its way into our bodies of water. 

Contact Your Legislature

Reach out to your local legislature branch and complain. Our government needs to put laws and regulations in place that will reduce the amount of human pollution that makes its way into our waters. If enough people put pressure on this matter, we can make a difference!

Boating With Care

Before enjoying your day out on the water, take some actions to make sure that you’re not disrupting the wildlife. Avoid boating near seagrass or other areas where manatees are commonly at.

Also, by wearing polarized sunglasses you can see into the water better, this way you can spot any manatees nearby. 

If you’re going out and fishing, be sure to hold onto all of your fishing gear and properly dispose of any fishing line. Manatees are prone to getting tangled in the discarded gear and fishing line that people dump into the water. 

If you do happen to hit a manatee with your boat or witness a collision, immediately report it to the FWC. With quick medical attention, the manatee is more likely to survive. 

Report Distressed Manatees

If you see a distressed, injured, tagged, or dead manatee, report it to the FWC and give them your location. By reaching out to them, they can come to examine the manatee and rescue it if it needs help. Dead manatees will be brought in for a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

If you’re unsure of what signs to look for in a manatee, we’ve got you covered. These are reasons to be concerned and should be reported to FWC:

  • Manatees stuck at the surface that can’t submerge
  • Manatees breathing every 30 seconds
  • Manatees entangled in traps or fishing lines
  • Manatees with fresh (pink and open) wounds
  • Beached manatees
  • Orphaned manatee calves

When reaching out to the FWC, you may need to take a picture or video to help identify the problem. If you can, try to remain by the manatee until help has arrived. 

Support Manatee Conservation

One of the easiest ways to help save the manatees is by donating to and supporting manatee conservation programs. Whether you donate to a manatee organization or buy our manatee gifts for you or a loved one, you’re joining the effort to save these treasured animals. 

Support the Manatees Proudly!

If more people learn about manatees and do their part, together we can make a difference in helping restore the manatee population.

Take a look at our selection of manatee gifts and see if there’s anything that you like. If you buy from us, a percentage of the proceeds will be donated to charities, like the Save the Manatee Club! You can support manatee conservation and show it off proudly by wearing our clothing products.


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