MIAMI (CBSMiami) - As 2018 comes to a close, it's been a bad year of Florida's manatee population with the second highest number of deaths ever recorded.
According to preliminary figures posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), more than 800 manatees died in 2018, a nearly 50% increase over the prior year.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said through December 21st there were a total of 804 manatee deaths, higher than any other year save the massive die-off in 2013 which saw 830 deaths.
More than a quarter (209) were red-tide related, more than triple the toll taken in 2017 and again second only to the 277 red-tide deaths in 2013.
There were a record number of deaths from boating collisions, with 119 tallied so far this year, compared to 111 in 207 and 102 in 2016.
"Nothing is going well for Florida's manatees this year," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that these totals could go much higher when year-end figures are finalized. "From pollution induced red-tides to speedboat propellers, humans are responsible for most manatee deaths."
More than 13% of the estimated 6,131 manatees counted in January have died.
Ruch said there is a growing question as to whether these losses threaten a sustainable population.
"How many more bad years can manatees endure before triggering an irreversible downward population spiral," Ruch asked, pointing to mounting efforts to restore the manatee's endangered status under federal law after it was downgraded in 2017. "In coming months, extreme weather, especially cold snaps, and loss of warm-water habitat will further imperil the Florida manatees' already tenuous future."
Cold weather also added to 2018's manatee losses, with 72 cold stress deaths, more than triple those in each of the prior four years. Back in 2010, a disastrously severe cold spell caused 282 manatees to perish.
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