This Beloved Animal Is in Danger of Extinction Thanks to COVID-19
Conservationists have reported a huge spike in deaths of this sea creature amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus shutdowns that have brought massive economic uncertainty have had a razor-thin silver lining in the form of record low pollution and incredible stories of nature making a comeback. But not all efforts have had such eco-friendly outcomes—especially for one of the ocean's most beloved gentle giants. Conservationists told The Guardian that manatees have seen a sharp spike in death rates due to limitations set by COVID-19, and that measures to protect the animal from extinction face major obstacles due to the pandemic.
Environmental scientists in Florida claim that a surge in unsafe boating activity has led to a 20 percent increase in manatee deaths between April and May compared to last year, with June also exceeding the five-year average for the same time period.
Shutdowns have also led to the delay in changing public policies and rolling out the launch of environmental projects aimed at protecting the sea mammals.
"There are several troubling factors coming together during the pandemic," Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club, told The Guardian. "Manatees were already facing accelerated habitat loss, rising fatalities from boat collisions, and less regulatory protection. With [COVID-19], we're seeing manatees at an increased risk, both from policies that undermine environmental standards and from irresponsible outdoor activity, such as boaters ignoring slow-speed zones."
Many locals cite the closure of public beaches and other outdoor activities as the reason behind the spike in boating activity. "Once Florida started to open up outdoor recreation in early May, people swarmed to the waterways," Mike Engiles, manager of Crystal River Watersports, told The Guardian. "Unguided boaters and swimmers have had a detrimental effect on the environment. There's an increase in trash. There are reports of destruction to the grass beds from props and anchors."
This has been coupled with official guided tours of protected areas being put on pause, leading unsupervised visitors to destroy local habitats and less trained eyes to spot potentially injured manatees.
Unfortunately, most of the continued threat to manatees lies not in the COVID-19 pandemic's effects on regulations, but the very human decisions that ultimately threaten their safety and habitat. Conservationists claim that deregulation efforts could derail years of progress in rebuilding manatee populations with overdevelopment of waterfront properties and the rolling back of climate initiatives to combat global warming. And for ways you can protect the planet despite the pandemic, check out 21 Ways to Help the Environment, Starting Right Now.