Brown tide to blame for manatee deaths

OKEECHOBEE — Attempts to blame manatee deaths (along with all other water problems in South Florida) on freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee were thwarted Aug. 17, at a meeting of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Congressman Brian Mast.

Larry Williams with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the primary interest of Fish and Wildlife Service is threatened and endangered species.

Manatee and calf. Photo courtesy of USACOE.

He said Congressman Mast asked him for information on how pollution is affecting manatees. He said he did some research and found the manatee deaths are not related to the cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Okeechobee or the St. Lucie waterway.

“The strongest evidence we have of pollution effecting manatees is the brown tide more prevalent in the northern part of the Indian River Lagoon,” he explained. “That’s a different form of algae.”

Manatees normally feed on the sea grass, Mr. Williams explained. The brown tide causes the sea grass to die. When the sea grass is gone, the manatees start to eat the seaweed, he continued.

Seaweed has a lower nutritional value and it causes a change in the manatees’ physiology, he continued. The manatees get sick and die.

Necropsies on many of the dead manatees found their stomachs were filled with seaweed, he continued.

The nutrient load causing the brown tide (Aureoumbra lagunensis) bloom is connected to local basin runoff, including leaking septic tank systems and fertilizers, he said.

The northern part of the Indian River Lagoon does not receive water from Lake Okeechobee.

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