Three environmental conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They claim that the agency has failed to adequately protect Florida manatees from water pollution and starvation. They want the EPA's Water Quality Standards to be Reassessed for Florida's Indian River Lagoon which is an important warm-water habitat for manatees.
Attorney Elizabeth Forsyth stated in a statement that manatees require clean water for their survival. "The Indian River Lagoon pollution can be prevented. We are asking EPA for help to protect the Indian River Lagoon, and all the species that depend upon it.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Save the Manatee Club and Defenders of Wildlife, pollution in manatee habitats from "wastewater-treatment discharges, leaking septic systems, fertilizer runoff and other sources" has fueled algae bloom in the Indian River Lagoon. This bloom kills seagrass which is a key food source for manatees and stops it from growing quickly.
The U.S. recorded a record 1000 manatee deaths in 2021. This was largely due to starvation. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies the deaths as "unusual mortality events (UMEs)" that "requires immediate action."
The EPA is responsible to certify water quality criteria for certain chemicals, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. According to the lawsuit, the Indian River Lagoon standards were approved nearly 10 years ago following studies that concluded that manatees wouldn't be adversely affected. This conclusion is contradicted by current manatee deaths rates.
Jane Davenport (senior attorney at Defenders) stated in a statement that Florida's beloved manatees would continue to suffer and die if EPA continues to maintain inadequate water quality standards. "EPA has no time to waste on reinitiating consultation,"
The groups are asking the EPA to "reinitiate consult" with the U.S., citing the Endangered Species act. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service and to reassess Indian River Lagoon’s water quality standards. The state agencies would be able to conduct a new assessment, which could allow them to tackle the pollution and improve water conditions and provide food for manatees.
We insist that the EPA and the U.S. join forces to save the manatees who died as a result of years of neglect. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service in order to ensure that water quality standards are met. This will bring an end this terrible situation," Patrick Rose, aquatic biologist and Executive Director at Save the Manatee Club.
Manatees were made an endangered species in 2017 and then made a threatened species in 2017. However, researchers are calling for the EPA's help to save them. According to Save the Manatee (non-profit), there are approximately 6,000 manatees remaining in Florida.