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Environment Groups Want EPA Do More To Protect Manatees, Wildlife

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - 2022 is close to turning into another record year for manatee deaths in Florida.

In the first two months of the year, there have been 400 manatee deaths, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Now several conservation organizations have sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect them.

Emilio Lopez with the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Coalition said pollution and runoff are a leading cause of death for manatees and other wildlife in the bay.

"These organics decompose in the water, they release a lot of nutrients contained in them, things like nitrogen and phosphorus," he said.

Lopez said those nutrients distort Biscayne Bay and harm its wildlife

"As you may remember there was a massive fish die-off a couple of years ago in Biscayne Bay and part of it had to do with the low oxygen levels, the water temperatures, and a variety of factors. Nutrients are a component of that," he said.

But the nutrients aren't just killing fish. A recent lawsuit filed against the EPA claims the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus being allowed in the state's waterways is preventing seagrass from growing, and as result is responsible for a massive manatee mortality event.

"We lost more than 1,100 manatees in the state of Florida in 2021. That represents 13 percent of the entire population of manatees in the state of Florida. Degrading environmental quality in water quality has robbed the manatees of their primary food source. Those manatees are starving to death," said Ragan Whitlock with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The lawsuit, which was brought by Save the Manatee Club, Earthjustice, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife, hopes to force the EPA to address the concern

"So the goal of our lawsuit is to compel the EPA to revisit Florida's nutrient criteria for water. That means the load of nutrients that we allow every year to be dumped in bays, in our waterways. With what happened last year, with the loss of manatees and the way the water quality is degrading across the state, it's clear that that nutrient criterion is not sufficient," said Whitlock.

Environmental advocates like Lopez hopes the fight is successful

"We have to protect the bay, we rely on it for jobs, for tourism, and also of course, for the ecosystem," he said.

On May 25th, Biscayne Bay Marine Health Coalition will hold a summit to discuss other ways to protect the bay.

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