JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The fight to save the Florida manatee is now in the federal court system.
Three conservation groups are suing the federal government, wanting them to update regulations to protect the manatees' habitat. One thousand one hundred manatees died last year, which is double the usual number. It comes out to three manatees dying every day of 2021.
Loss of habitat is a major problem and the latest lawsuit focuses on that. The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Save the Manatee Club are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stating the FWS never updated the critical habitat designation for manatees despite finding more than a decade ago that the revision was "warranted."
The lawsuit states the critical habitat designation is an essential part of the Endangered Species Act and therefore a species' survival. The FWS reportedly declined to make a public comment. First Coast News is reaching out for comment.
In December the same three conservation groups threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency if it didn’t take steps to protect manatees from water pollution. Algae blooms fueled by pollution that humans control is being blamed for most manatee deaths. The algae blocks sunlight from reaching seagrasses, the main food source for manatees, and the animals starve.
The EPA has until Feb. 18 to respond to the lawsuit. They sent First Coast News this statement: "EPA is concerned about the manatee deaths and is committed to working with Florida and other partners to implement nutrient reduction strategies. We have received the notice and are currently reviewing it."
To try to stop the manatees from starving, an unprecedented feeding program is being attempted. A state and federal response to the Unusual Mortality Event is to feed manatees lettuce at the Indian River Lagoon, where most of the manatees died of starvation last year.
The manatees just started recognizing the lettuce as food and eating it.
First Coast News' Renata Di Gregorio and Leah Shields are working on a long-form story on the manatee crisis that will air Feb. 23.