2012-2013 Save the Manatee Trust Fund Annual Report
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is pleased to submit this annual report on the expenditures from the Save the Manatee Trust Fund (Trust Fund), per section 379.2431(4)(b), Florida Statutes (F.S.). The Trust Fund is the primary source of funding for the State's manatee-related research and conservation activities. As required by Florida law, the report is provided to the President of the Florida Senate and the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives by December 1, each year. This report covers the period from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013.
Recent annual reports described heavy impacts to manatees associated with unusually cold winter weather. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 – 2010 report found that record cold followed by below-average temperatures contributed to the in-state total of 756 reported manatee deaths - the worst on record at the time. Unfortunately, during FY 2012-2013 even more manatee deaths were reported, with a total of 865 reported deaths in Florida waters and an additional 11 from other states. Red tide along southwest Florida is associated with the deaths of at least 291 of the reported manatees during the entire fiscal year. Additionally, 111 manatee cases from Florida’s central east coast suspected to be from a common but still unknown cause of death are also a contributing factor to this record mortality number. When mortality levels reached a predetermined notification trigger earlier in FY 2012-2013, the National Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events was contacted and subsequently declared a Manatee Brevetoxicosis (red tide) Repeat Mortality Event for southwestern Florida, and declared a separate Manatee Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for Florida’s central east coast. These designations are in recognition of the serious nature of the events and the need for immediate response and investigation to better understand manatee population threats and stressors.
Substantial effort was put forth statewide, and particularly in southwest and east central coastal Florida, to effectively respond to large inflows of public reports of dead and distressed live manatees. FY 2012-2013 was unparalleled in the frequency of incoming reports and response needs. Fortunately, the State of Florida along with its partners has a manatee conservation program in place that allows FWC to effectively respond. Early activation of contingency plans including assignment of coordinators that directed response actions and the assembly of comprehensive teams are part of the program’s strategy to meet the unique and complex challenges of catastrophic wildlife events such as these.
Agency actions during the red tide die-off included reconnaissance missions conducted via aircraft and boat to find manatees in distress and conduct rescue operations. A record number of red tide-related manatee rescues for a single event were accomplished in southwest Florida. Most have been treated and returned to the wild. Importantly, insights are gained through experience, and response capabilities, therefore, improve over time. Regarding the Florida East Coast UME, reports of manatee mortality have decreased during recent months and an active investigation utilizing researchers from multiple disciplines and organizations continues. The information gleaned from the investigation will help to inform managers about potential emerging issues and will aid in the development of appropriate conservation actions.
This report provides an overview of progress, accomplishments, and challenges related to manatee conservation and research that occurred over the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Priority conservation work will provide a better understanding of the impacts of primary threats, such as red tide, and other environmental stressors, on manatee population growth. FWC intends to incorporate information from recent mortality events into future population modeling efforts in an attempt to better understand the relative roles of various threats and improve the ability to forecast population changes.
These activities are possible because of the funding of the Save the Manatee Trust Fund. The Trust Fund receives money from sales of manatee license plates and decals, boat registration fees, and voluntary donations. Revenues for FY 2012-2013 totaled $3,759,261. Appropriations from the Trust Fund for the same period were $4,066,397, with $325,000 provided for manatee research activities at Mote Marine Laboratory and a service charge to General Revenue of $340,116 that most trust funds are required by law to pay. In FY 2012-2013, FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation expended $981,426 for conservation activities and the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute expended $1,831,124 on research and monitoring. Details of revenues, appropriations, and expenditures are shown on page seven of this report.