Nov 4, 2022 - News

Multiple manatee deaths reported in southwest Florida after Hurricane Ian

Manatees surface for air in a dock that was damaged by the effects of Hurricane Irma in Islamorada,

Manatees surface for air near a hurricane-damaged dock in the Florida Keys. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The toll Hurricane Ian took on Florida manatees is becoming clear.

Driving the news: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) tells Axios that eight manatee mortalities have been reported in southwest Florida in Hurricane Ian’s wake.

  • One in Naples was confirmed to be due to the storm and one in Lee County was possibly related.
  • It's still unknown whether the other 6 were storm-linked.

Why it matters: Manatees are still dying at an unusual pace due to starvation caused by depleted seagrass beds in the Indian River Lagoon, so any extra loss of life is devastating.

  • 727 manatee deaths have been reported to FWC so far this year, already well above the five-year average of 615.

Yes, but: FWC agents have been responding to reports of stranded manatees across southwest Florida and conducting emergency rescues with success.

  • "A majority of the live stranding reports have been for entrapment cases, which includes manatees blocked by debris or manatees that have gained access to normally inaccessible waterways due to high water,” FWC spokesperson Carli Segelson said in an email.

What they did: On Oct. 3, FWC law enforcement agents rescued a small manatee that had been stranded in a mangrove lagoon on Sanibel Island for several days, then released it into the Gulf.

  • On Oct. 7, they rescued a healthy juvenile female that had gotten into the retention pond system at Billy’s Creek Park in Lee County, releasing it into the Orange River.
  • Between Oct. 14 and 16, seven manatees were trapped and isolated in a Sanibel Island canal after a bridge collapsed. FWC used a work truck with a winch to remove downed mangrove limbs to open the passage during high tide to free them.

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