2013 Deadliest Year On Record for Manatees
Reported deaths of Florida manatees during 2013 have reached a record high, more than doubling last year’s total, according to state figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A major factor driving this dramatic rise is the enormous toll from red tides, which accounted for a third of all the deaths and far more than in any year on record.
Preliminary figures from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission indicate that 829 manatee perished in 2013, with full results for December not yet tabulated. This total is more than double last year’s loss of 392 sea cows and eclipses the previous record of 766 back in 2010 when a severe cold spell caused mortality to spike. This week’s sudden cold snap could start 2014 with even more manatee deaths.
Altogether, the 2013 toll removes nearly 17 percent of the total manatee population. Distressingly, these losses include 126 calves. Manatees are classified as an endangered species under both federal and Florida law.
One major factor driving the sharp 2013 rise was manatee deaths attributed to toxic red tide events caused by algal blooms. There were 276 red tide-related manatee deaths in 2013, almost as many as for the previous eight years combined and more than 60 percent above the previous record for red tide-related deaths of 151 back in 1996.
While algal blooms are a natural and seasonal occurrence, they are exacerbated by pollution, especially nutrient loading, such as from agricultural and human wastes. Coastal water pollution is on the increase in Florida which when combined with rising sea water temperatures create ideal conditions for red tides.
“This hike in manatee mortality seems to be the product of systemic environmental irresponsibility,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former water quality enforcement attorney for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), pointing out that the state has been vigorously resisting tougher water pollution standards while eviscerating the DEP. “Basic permit regulation for waste-water discharges and enforcement against water pollution violations have completely broken down in the State of Florida.”
Manatees may not be the only marine wildlife bearing the brunt of diminished water quality. More than 115 manatees died this year from an as yet undiagnosed illness in Indian River Lagoon, a major manatee haven. The disease also appears to be killing dolphins, pelicans and other wildlife in the Atlantic-facing inlet.
“Manatees appear to be dying in a perfect storm of human neglect,” Phillips added, noting that boating-related manatee deaths actually fell in 2013. “If the quality of Florida’s coastal waters continues its downward spiral, there will not only be fewer manatees but a lot fewer tourists no matter how cold it gets up North.”
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
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The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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