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Billboards In Florida Bring Attention To Clean Water Regulations
Signs near Titusville along I-95 in east-central Florida say, “Home To Bears. Toxic Water. Dead Manatees.”
They also show a toilet draining into the lagoon with a tombstone that says, “RIP 1,874 manatees 2021-2022.”
That’s the number of manatees that have died in that time period because they don’t have enough food to eat.
It's quite a sight. Site?
These gentle creatures, also called sea cows, are one of the most iconic animals in the state.
While that’s down from more than 1,100 deaths in 2021, the number of deaths remains above the five-year average.
The billboards are sponsored by the Bear Warriors United, a nonprofit group that is also suing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), accusing the agency of failing to enforce clean water regulations.
“I never thought I would see starving manatees and their extinction from the Indian River Lagoon, but that is what’s happening now,” Greg Pflug, a Florida native and Bear Warriors member, wrote in an affidavit for the suit.
The Indian River Lagoon stretches more than 150 miles along Florida’s central coast with more than 4,400 species of plants and animals, including manatees.
Too many septic tanks and sewage spills in the northern Indian River Lagoon basin have killed the manatee’s main source of food—seagrass. These sweet animals are starving to death and thousands of acres of seagrass in Florida are gone due to nutrient pollution.
We’ve talked about harmful algal blooms in the past. They are a big problem throughout the country, but in Florida septic tanks are among the top contributors of excess nitrogen and phosphorus fueling these toxic blooms and blocking sunlight to seagrass.
In June 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the Clean Waterways Act or SB 712, which passed the Florida Legislature with bipartisan support. Its aim was to minimize the impact of known sources of nutrient pollution, realigning the state’s resources to enhance the protection of Florida’s environment and strengthening regulatory requirements.
“Our children and future generations serve as a stark reminder of what’s at stake when discussing the importance of creating a clean, healthy, and stable environmental foundation for their future,” said Governor DeSantis in a statement at the time. “We have seen overwhelming support in our efforts to protect and conserve our waterways and natural resources, and while there is still plenty of work to be done, I look forward to building upon our recent successes.”
But like so many laws with good intentions, this bill came directly out of recommendations from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force. Sadly, it has not led to real changes for the state’s waterways.
It’s time to stop using our natural rivers and estuaries as toilets and own the impact of our actions. DEP needs to do their job!
How To Help Manatees
Report distressed, sick, injured or dead manatees at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.
Help reduce pollution and prevent harmful algal blooms from forming. Too many yard chemicals, including fertilizer and herbicides, are entering waterways, causing algal blooms that kill seagrasses and harm manatees. Here are some tips to help you love your lawn and manatees, too.
Fertilize less or not at all. Get to know your yard’s fertilizer needs. Many established landscapes may not need fertilizer. Problems may be caused by other issues such as thatch build up, iron deficiency, or overwatering. Your local UF-IFAS Extension Office can assist with soil tests, plant recommendations, and specific lawn questions.
Know your local fertilizer regulations. When in doubt, if you must use fertilizer, apply slow-release nitrogen fertilizers to your lawn only once per year.
Follow Florida Friendly Landscaping™ principles. If you live near a water body, leave at least a 10-foot-buffer along the shoreline where no fertilizing occurs. And if you hire landscape professionals, they should be certified in best management practices and have their Limited Urban Commercial Applicator Certificate. Search for certified professionals here.
Look, but don’t touch manatees. Keep a distance when boating, even if you are steering a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard.
You can sign up to volunteer for future seagrass planting projects here.
Check out Lagoon Watch at the Marine Resources Council, Restore Our Shores with the Brevard Zoo, and volunteer opportunities with the Florida Oceanographic Society.
(Outside of Florida)
In 2022, under extreme circumstances, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service took a risk and decided to feed starving manatees at a warm water outflow. By the end of feeding season, the state's salad bar dumped 202,000 pounds of romaine and butterleaf lettuce to help sustain manatees.
This winter's feeding program will need $180,000 to continue. To donate, call Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida at 800-988-4889.
Note: it is illegal for members of the general public to feed or water manatees, so please leave feeding to the experts!
What do you think of these signs bringing awareness to this important clean water issue? Sound off in the comments below!