The Manatees Are Starving

manatee florida

Forget Noah and his ark; modern-day humans are here to pillage and purge Mother Earth of all of her precious beasts.

For decades, scientists and environmentalists have been warning about the lasting effects of climate change due to greenhouse gases built up in our atmosphere. That, coupled with the continued shifting and shrinking of animal habitats, threaten biodiversity losses so significant that humankind is accelerating the extinction of millions of species.

Leah Gerber, Ecologist and Director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University, told the New York Times,

“Biodiversity is the foundation of social and economic systems, yet we have not managed to solve the extinction crisis.”

starving manatees climate change
credit: NOAA

Animals are waving their white flag in the name of human-environmental negligence.

In Florida, wildlife officials have taken to hand-feeding emaciated manatees romaine lettuce because of the decimated seagrass beds. These once plump endangered sea cows are dying of starvation from a lack of food sources.

In 2021 alone, more than 1,000 manatees died in the state of Florida — that’s more manatee deaths than the cumulative of the five years prior, leaving the statewide manatee population at a mere 6,000. Officials have been so overwhelmed with manatee corpses that they’ve had to tow their carcasses to remote islands to decompose.

Environmental groups have connected the devasted seagrass beds to waters polluted by faulty sanitary sewer systems. Approximately 200M gallons of polluted water from an abandoned phosphate plant Piney Point’s reservoir pond leaked into Tampa Bay in April 2021. Scientists warned that these leaks could lead to harmful algal blooms that would crowd the water surface, reducing the amount of light needed for seagrass and other aquatic plant life to grow.

Ironically, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit in mid-December, allowing deep well injection for the remaining 300M gallons of Piney Point’s hazardous wastewater to be injected underground.

elephants climate change
credit: Eddy Billard

From manatees to distant cousins of the mastodon, 20 Sri Lankan elephants have died in the past eight years from consuming plastic waste from nearby landfills due to the degradation of their natural habitat. Two more were found dead over the weekend.

Starving elephants wander into landfills and consume plastic and sharp objects that harm their digestive system. The elephants eventually stop eating and become too weak to stay upright, prohibiting food or water consumption and ultimately leading to death for these revered mammals.

According to officials, approximately 54 Sri Lankan waste dumps exist near wildlife zones where nearly 300 elephants roam.

Sri Lankan elephants aren’t the only ones suffering, however. In 2020, elephants in the south African region experienced heightened death tolls, with over 300 deaths in Botswana alone. Veterinary scientists cited cyanobacterial neurotoxins, aka blue-green algae, found in the waters near the elephant carcasses as the root cause. Blue-green algae are microorganisms that can cause liver damage and thrive in warmer water temperatures. Sub-Saharan African temperatures are increasing at more than twice the global average, making the region highly susceptible to toxic algal blooms.

Biodiversity is our society’s foundational supply chain, and stark life variety imbalances can lead to ecosystem collapses, threatening all animals, including humanity’s food and water supply.

Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told the New York Times,

“We’re eroding the capabilities of the planet to maintain human life and life in general.”

He went on to suggest that conservationists should begin considering all species with populations less than 5,000 in danger of extinction. In the past century, over 540 species have become extinct — a total that scientists hypothesize would have taken 10,000 years to hit without the environmental impact imposed by humans.

To learn more about how you can get involved in the fight against climate change, head to Evergreen Action’s website. The organization is dedicated to pushing through legislation that would adequately fight the climate crisis.

Jenilee Daw
Jenilee is a freelance writer who lives in Bend, Oregon. When she's not dancing around her kitchen with her son, she can be found binge-watching any and all Bravo franchises.