The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) are working to address a manatee unusual mortality event (UME) along Florida’s Atlantic coast. To facilitate logistics and enhance existing efforts for the winter 2021-2022 response, the Service and the FWC are standing up a Joint Incident Management Team under the emergency response Incident Command System (ICS).
Today, Shannon Estenoz, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, and FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto met to discuss their agencies’ manatee conservation efforts already well underway in response to the UME and other efforts.
Today’s announcement of the Joint Incident Management Team underscores the commitment the Service and FWC share in addressing threats to manatees, especially in light of an FWC Nov. 17, 2021, announcement indicating 1,003 manatees – more than 10% of Florida’s estimated population — have died since the start of 2021.
Responding to the UME requires the joint efforts of numerous federal, state and private partners including the Service, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, St. Johns River Water Management District, Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, Brevard County, and Florida Power and Light. The ICS is a standardized approach to the command, control and coordination of emergency response that provides a common hierarchy that enhances the effectiveness of the response.
“Service and FWC staff, along with the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, have been actively responding to the UME and are further strengthening their response as this unprecedented emergency continues to unfold,” said Estenoz. “Setting up a Joint Incident Management Team within the ICS framework strengthens the work already underway by streamlining administrative processes and by ensuring responders have the resources they need when and where they are needed.”
FWC staff and their many partners are on the front line in the UME response. Whether responding to hundreds of calls about manatees in distress or coordinating on-the-ground rescue and recovery efforts, the workload is significant.
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“We take this situation seriously and are committed to working with our partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explore short-term solutions to the die-off, as well as much-needed long-term solutions to restoring the lagoon ecosystem,” said Barreto.
Researchers have attributed the UME to starvation due to the lack of forage in the Indian River Lagoon. Historically, the lagoon has provided essential habitat to manatees year-round, and during the colder winter months many manatees depend on warm water refuges in this area.
The FWC and the Service are working closely with partners to continue investigating the mortality event and exploring a variety of proactive options to assist manatees in the affected area.
The goal for resource managers is to restore the Indian River Lagoon to a healthy state, which will benefit manatees and other wildlife.
People can help manatee conservation by reporting injured, distressed or dead manatees to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.