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Lee County led state in manatee deaths in 2019

January 22, 2020
By NATHAN MAYBERG ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Lee County led Florida in an unfortunate statistic in 2019 by a large margin: manatee deaths.

According to numbers furnished by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there were 144 deaths of manatees reported which was 56 more than Brevard County. Three counties shared the distinction of having the third-most manatee deaths with 33.

Lee County had almost that many manatee deaths alone reported due to watercraft, with 26. There were 72 manatees reported killed which were unrecovered and 24 natural deaths. Lee County's 26 watercraft-related manatee deaths were followed by Brevard County's 16 and were more than twice the number of the third-highest county for watercraft-related manatee deaths which was Volusia (12). There were 11 manatee deaths in Lee County of an undetermined cause.

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During Christmas week, three manatees were found dead in a Fort Myers Beach lagoon over a seven-day period, Fort Myers Beach, Councilmember Bruce Butcher said.


In total, there were 606 manatee deaths reported in Florida in 2019. Manatees were considered an endangered species for more than 40 years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife downgraded their protection level from endangered to threatened in 2016. The number of manatees hovering around Florida is estimated to be in the range of 5,000 to 6,000.

The worst month in 2019 for the manatees in Lee County was in December, with 56 of the 144 deaths reported. Of those, 47 were reported as unrecoverable. Two of the deaths were confirmed to be from watercraft and two were from an undetermined nature.

"The FWC has increased patrols in strategic areas of the state, including Lee County, to enhance manatee conservation and public safety," stated Melody Kilborn,

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Southwest Region Public Information Director.

"We work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local partners to make sure that boaters know to look out for manatees. Boaters can do their part by paying attention to surroundings and abiding by posted speed zone signs," Kilborn said.

The 2019 numbers for manatee deaths were down from 2018 when 182 were found dead in Lee County waters, which again led the state. However, the figures from that year were dominated by red tide deaths. There were 17 confirmed deaths of manatees from watercraft in 2018 (which rose to 26 in 2019). The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission statistics are not the clearest of pictures for what happens to the manatees as 54 manatees which were found dead in Lee County waters in 2018 were listed as unrecovered and another 16 had an undetermined cause of death.

Fort Myers Beach was not one of the major locations for manatee deaths in Lee County last year. Of the 144 reported deaths, 14 (10 percent) were in Fort Myers Beach. Of those 14, five were found in Big Carlos Pass, with the rest in Estero Bay, Little Carlos Pass, Matanzas Pass, Otsego Bay and San Carlos bay. The North Fort Myers section of the Caloosahatchee River was one of the worst danger spots for manatees in 2019, with 20 deaths reported there.

During Christmas week, three manatees were found dead in a Fort Myers Beach lagoon over a seven-day period, Fort Myers Beach Councilmember Bruce Butcher said.

The year 2020 has not been a kind one so far in Lee County to manatees either. From Jan. 1 to Jan. 10., there were six manatees found dead in Lee County waters. The locations were Saint James City, Sanibel, Cape Coral, 10 Mile Canal in Fort Myers and the Gulf of Mexico in Cayo Costa.

Michelle Kerr, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesperson, said "FWC law enforcement is provided regular information about where watercraft-related deaths are occurring, so they can respond appropriately. Law enforcement uses watercraft-related death information, along with other factors such as time of year, in planning law enforcement patrol efforts."

Slower boat speeds, Kerr stated "reduce manatee boat strike risks by providing greater reaction time to avoid for both boat operator and manatee and reduce severity of injuries in case of a collision. "

Kerr provided these additional tips to help manatees when boating:

- Abide by the posted speed zone signs while in areas known to be used by manatees

- Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare of the water, to spot manatees more easily

- Try to stay in deep-water channels whenever possible.

- Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas. Manatees are often found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, lagoons, and coastal areas.

- Remain at least 50 feet away from a manatee when operating a powerboat.

- Don't discard monofilament line, hooks, or any other litter into the water. Manatees and other wildlife may ingest or become entangled in this debris and can become injured or even die.

What should you do if you see a beached manatee? Do not push them back, Kerr warned. The best way to help marine life is to call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922 to report stranded, injured, or dead marine mammals.



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