Environmental groups sue EPA over record manatee deaths

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Three conservation groups on Monday decided to file a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection over water quality issues that have led to a record number of manatee deaths this year in Florida.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Save the Manatee Club filed a precursor notice of lawsuit against the EPA. The advisory says the EPA must begin a process to reconsider whether water quality standards are adequate to protect manatees in the Indian River Lagoon on the East Coast, where many deaths have occurred.

“In short, the Indian River Lagoon and the manatee are currently in the midst of an ecological collapse,” said the notice, filed by lawyers for the law organization Earthjustice on behalf of conservation groups. “Furthermore, it seems likely that the unusual mortality event of 2021 will not be a one-time event, but rather portends a bleak future of continued manatee deaths unless more effective measures are taken to address the factor. key environmental driver – nutrient pollution of major estuarine habitats destroying habitat, including food for manatees and many other species.

As of Dec. 10, Florida had 1,056 manatee deaths this year, according to data posted on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. The advisory filed Monday by conservation groups says this year’s total is roughly double the average annual number of manatee deaths.

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Wildlife officials say many of the deaths were caused by starvation, as poor water quality killed seagrass beds that are a key food source for manatees. The situation led wildlife officials to take the unusual step of starting to feed the manatees.

In Monday’s notice, conservation groups said the EPA is overseeing Florida’s development of water quality standards and so-called “Total Maximum Daily Loads,” which involve maximum authorized quantities of pollutants in waterways. The advisory alleges that the EPA is in violation of federal endangered species law for failing to initiate a consultation process with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Service to determine whether the current total maximum daily loads are sufficient to protect manatees.

“The death of the seagrass beds is directly linked to the deterioration of water quality in the Indian River Lagoon,” the notice states. “As human development has increased around the Indian River Lagoon, the input of nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage treatment discharges, septic tank leaks, and runoff carrying nitrogen fertilizers , among other sources, has increased. These nutrients, in turn, feed the algae super outbreaks, which prevent light from reaching the seagrass beds, causing them to die.

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In 2017, manatees moved from an “endangered” to “threatened” designation under the Endangered Species Act, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reporting an increase in the manatee population and habitat improvements due to the conservation efforts of Florida, Puerto Rico, Caribbean Nations, and public and private organizations.

The number of deaths this year is estimated to be around one-sixth of the manatee population in the waters of the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico.

Members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stressed at a meeting last week the need for long-term solutions.

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“While we deal with the manatee mortality event, which is a symptom, we also need to focus on healing from improved water quality, especially in the Indian River Lagoon,” said Fish and Wildlife Commission member Michael Sole. former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said.


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