BY HOWARD COHEN
MIAMI — Despite an ongoing campaign to protect the gentle manatee — which has included a 38-years-long Save the Manatee Club effort from popular singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett — Florida boaters killed a record number of manatees in 2019.
According to a preliminary mortality report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 129 manatees were hit by boats and died as a result this year. That’s four more than the previous record of 125 in 2018.
The report tracks manatee deaths through Dec. 13.
Lee County led the surge with 25 reported watercraft incidents, topping 15 in Brevard — the second deadliest county in the state for the sea creature where boats are concerned.
Other death causes
Seventeen manatees were killed in South Florida counties: Four apiece in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe and five in Palm Beach in 2019, the preliminary report found.
The record trend was already established by the end of June when 89 manatees were killed by watercraft, beating 65 during the same period in 2018, according to the commission.
Boating advocates who have pushed back against go-slow speed zones designated to protect the slow-moving marine mammals argue that the reason more manatees are dying may be because there isn’t enough seagrass to feed them, WFLA News Channel 8 reported.
The report also tracked manatee deaths by natural causes and other causes including ensnarement in flood gates or canal locks, cold stress and perinatal problems.
545 total deaths
Natural causes accounted for 74 manatee deaths from Jan. 1 to Dec. 13, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report found. A total of 545 deaths were counted among the eight categories.
Buffett’s Save the Manatees campaign began in earnest with the release of his song, “Growing Older But Not Up,” from his 1981 album, “Coconut Telegraph.”
Sample lyric: “Sometimes I see me as an old manatee/Headin’ south as the waters grow colder/Tries to steer clear of the hum-drum so near/It cuts prop scars deep in his shoulder/But that’s how it goes (that’s how it goes), right to the end/Though his body’s quite flexible, that barnacle brain don’t bend.”