Florida wildlife and environmental groups are sounding the alarm over the unprecedented deaths this year of manatees, large, slow-moving marine animals that are the official marine mammals of the southeastern United States.
The latest Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission data show that as of October 15, 974 manatees were found dead, more than double the number in the entire last year and more than any other year on record.
This number represents over 10% of the total manatee population in the state.
Officials fear the onset of winter and colder weather could trigger a new wave of deaths.
Conservation officials say there is no mystery about this extinction. They say that over the past 10 years, algae, the staple food for animals, has been steadily declining.
When conservation officials conducted postmortem examinations of bodies found in the first half of the year, it was found that the vast majority had died of starvation.
Environmental experts say algae are dying due to degradation in water quality associated with artificial sources such as fertilizer runoff, wastewater discharges and other pollutants. Since 2009, the state estimates that about 58% of the algae has been lost in the Indian River Lagoon, the main habitat for manatees, reports the Associated Press.
The Florida Legislature this year approved $ 8 million for a manatee habitat restoration program run by state and federal environmental officials.
The Associated Press reports that the Fish and Wildlife Commission is urging state legislators to approve an additional $ 7 million for algae restoration projects, manatee rehabilitation centers and other projects.
Florida manatees are West Indies animals known for their round body, large front flippers, and lobed flat tails. The average adult is just over 3 meters long, weighs up to 550 kilograms, and can live up to 65 years. They are closely related to elephants.
Some of the information in this report came from the Associated Press.