Manatees at risk from red tide, boaters & cold water temperatures

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Erica Trippel and her family come to Southwest Florida this time every year and make it a point to visit Manatee Park.

“They’re just very docile animals, slow moving, very interesting to watch,” Trippel said.

But this time, they say they’re disappointed.

“We’ve been out this time of year before and (there were) manatees so thick you could almost walk across the ponds on their backs. Today they’re minimal,” Trippel said.

FWC says 166 manatees died in the state already this year—26 in Lee County—putting them on a possibly record-breaking path, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER.

The biggest factor is cold water temperatures. When water dips below 68 degrees, it becomes dangerous for the animals. Red tide is also a concern.

“When they get too much of the Neurotoxin from red tide, it paralyzes the diaphragm muscle which makes it hard to breathe. Unfortunately, the manatee will drown when the muscle is paralyzed too badly or for too long,” said John Cassani, a Calusa Waterkeeper.

There are no red tide-related manatee deaths so far this year, but officials are concerned with the high algae levels. There were 63 red tide-related deaths last year, and the record was 276 in 2013.

A third concern for manatees is being hit by propellers on boats. There have been 21 manatee deaths in the state related to boats this year.

Experts say the red tide affecting manatees could be because of dirty run-off over summer months, and particularly after Hurricane Irma.

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