Subject: Manatee, pelican deaths suggest serious problems for Indian River Lagoon
Gov. Rick Scott and the radical GOP right are literally blind to the pollution caused by their biggest campaign contributors from Big Sugar, Big Ag, and the Growth Machine. It is all about shifting the costs of cleaning up their pollution. Guess who pays?
Here's an astute observation from a reader; duh...this is exactly what happens when you inject millions of gallons of sewage into the aquifer IN the lagoon, as they are doing in Brevard County....wonder why USFWS, Florida Audubon, "Save the Manatee" and other animal rights groups aren't screaming about THIS... maybe Chuck Underwood, "a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman" should wake up and smell what ISN'T the coffee....
"The 156-mile-long lagoon, one of the richest marine environments in North America, has suffered extensive blooms of microscopic algae in recent years that have in turn triggered mass die-offs of seagrass, the submerged plants that shelter many aquatic species and are a primary source of food for manatees."
Orlando Sentinel - 9:00 p.m. EDT, March 21, 2013
Manatee, pelican deaths suggest serious problems for Indian River Lagoon
Link to Kevin Spear Fox 36 interview video
The mysterious deaths of dozens of manatees and hundreds of pelicans may be an indication that the ailing Indian River Lagoon, among the state's most magnificent waterways, is headed for one of the more epic collapses of a Florida ecosystem in years.
The 156-mile-long lagoon, one of the richest marine environments in North America, has suffered extensive blooms of microscopic algae in recent years that have in turn triggered mass die-offs of seagrass, the submerged plants that shelter many aquatic species and are a primary source of food for manatees.
Scientists feared something bad would happen as a result, and beginning last summer manatees began perishing in areas with the worst seagrass losses, mainly in Brevard County, though no cause of death has been determined.
"The loss of manatees has been less than we've seen with red tide and from
cold stress in recent years. But to me, this is scarier," said Katie Tripp,
science director of the Save the Manatee Club.
"With cold stress, we know it's going to warm up, and with red tide we know
pretty much what to expect. But it's been a long time since we've had
manatees dying off in large numbers for reasons that aren't known," Tripp
Coinciding with the unexplained deaths of 80 manatees as of Thursday is the
rising toll of brown pelicans, whose deaths also have no explanation. State
officials said that, as of Thursday, nearly 230 pelican carcasses have been
recovered or reported this year.
Dan Wolf, a state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist, said
he and other investigators think the pelican and manatee deaths are related,
even though there are perplexing differences.
"Manatees eat plants, and pelicans eat fish. The only thing they share is
water," Wolf said.
Wolf said that whatever is afflicting the pelicans kills a bird during a
span of weeks and leaves its victims emaciated and plagued with parasites.
By contrast, the manatees appear to sicken and die quickly ‹ and, as far as
investigators know, display no warning symptoms.
"We've seen signs of acute shock and drowning," said Martine deWit, an FWC
State investigators think that the loss of seagrass has forced manatees to
forage on a type of red-colored algae in the Indian River known as
gracilaria. Necropsies of manatees have found their stomachs filled with it.
"It looks like they ingest this stuff, and once it gets into their system,
it causes an issue with their intestines, and there actually seems to be a
reaction in the small intestine," said Andy Garrett, an FWC marine-mammal
Gracilaria isn't thought to be toxic. So the challenge for investigators is
to determine whether there is an unknown toxin at work. But even if
investigators determine what is killing the manatees and pelicans, there may
not be much that can be done to prevent further deaths, deWit said.
The same holds for the health of the Indian River overall. State water
managers now fear that "nutrient" pollution tied to street runoff, lawn
fertilizers and sewage is driving the lagoon's ecosystem. That pollution,
which is essentially plant food, has been absorbed through the years by
seagrasses or by gracilaria and other large species of algae.
But cold snaps in 2010 and 2011 killed much of that large algae, which
decomposed and released the nutrient pollution back into the water, where it
triggered an explosive growth of single-cell, microscopic algae in three
sections of the lagoon. Those blooms of microscopic algae then blocked
sunlight from reaching the surviving seagrass, killing off more than 30,000
acres of the plants.
"We are in a crisis mode," said Troy Rice, director of the Indian River
Lagoon National Estuary Program.
The question now is whether the lagoon is transforming from a system where
seagrasses and large algae absorb nutrient pollution to a system in which
microscopic algae are in control. Charles Jacoby, a St. Johns River Water
Management District scientist, said there are many examples of ecosystems
making that "flip."
"When they flip, they flip pretty radically," he said. "Sometimes it takes a
lot of effort to flip them back."
What's happening to the coastal waterway, which extends from New Smyrna
Beach south to Jupiter and is a major manatee habitat, has been drawing much
attention, including from dolphin biologists.
"Because of what's going on with manatees, we're on alert," said Megan
Stolen, a scientist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, which documented a
mini-spike of five dolphin deaths in February, up from the month's average
of 2.3 deaths.
Leesa Souto, executive director of the Marine Resources Council, which
advocates lagoon restoration, hopes recent events finally trigger a critical
mass of public and government concern.
"Maybe now that there are pelicans falling out of the sky, then maybe the
public will start rallying on behalf of the system," Souto said. "I'm
hearing from people here in Melbourne that, 'Oh, we saw another dead
manatee.' And these are children."
Tripp, the Save the Manatee Club scientist, said the lagoon's plight
underscores the vulnerability of manatees, which have been under
consideration for reclassification from "endangered" to the less-dire
category of "threatened."
Chuck Underwood, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman, said agency
biologists are asking questions about the lagoon's deterioration, including
what it may mean for manatee conservation.
"The answer is, we are not sure," Underwood said.
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