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2020-2021 Save the Manatee Trust Fund Annual Report

View the 2020-2021 Save the Manatee Trust Fund Annual Report

Executive Summary

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is pleased to submit the annual report on the expenditures from the Save the Manatee Trust Fund (Trust Fund), per section 379.2431(4)(b), Florida Statutes. 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, annually. This report covers the period from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021.

Through the long-term public support of the Trust Fund, FWC actively implements science-based conservation programs and engages partnerships that are making a difference for manatees and habitat. FWC’s guiding conservation goal for the Florida manatee is to effectively manage the wildlife resource in perpetuity throughout Florida. In order to accomplish this goal, the species must recover from a threatened status and be effectively managed so that manatees can endure future impacts that can affect their population including: large-scale die-offs from red tide and cold stress, human-related impacts and continued degradation and loss of important habitats.

Within the first 6-months of 2021 the statewide number of reported manatee deaths surpassed the previous annual high of 830 in 2013. The leading contributing factor to the high number of deaths was the unprecedented (in regional numbers and cause) manatee morbidity and mortality that was documented on the entire Atlantic coast region since December 2020. Based on available information, the probable cause of the Atlantic region mass mortality was malnutrition, driven by seasonal migration (for warmth) to areas where most seagrass has died off. Over the past decade, the Indian River Lagoon has experienced significant water quality degradation, leading to the repeated occurrence of harmful algal blooms and widespread loss of seagrass, the preferred food for manatees. Staff prepared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) initiation request for review by a federally mandated panel of experts, referred to as the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Morality Events. The panel declared a UME, meaning that the event was unexpected, involves a significant die-off of a marine mammal population, and requires immediate response. Investigating these events is key to understanding the cause, understanding potential impacts on the population as well as developing conservation measures that protect the species affected and the marine environment where the UME is taking place. The Atlantic region event is the 14th officially declared mortality event in Florida since 1996, roughly an event every other year over the past two decades.

Regarding the current event, sufficient improvement in water quality conditions and forage are not anticipated in the immediate future and therefore staff expect manatee winter mortality to remain high in the region. FWC is therefore leading proactive efforts to plan for potential future events and implement habitat restoration projects benefitting manatees. The long-term impacts of such large-scale die-offs on the manatee population in Florida are not currently know;to help address this, FWC monitors multiple aspects of the manatee population including: prevalence of certain reasons for death, adult survival rates, and reproduction that, when taken in context of each other, improve our understanding of population dynamics. As with all species, future resiliency is associated with population size and distribution, growth rate, health, and habitat quality. Together these factors will impact the ability of manatees to cope with future changes and are the focus of conservation work.

These activities are possible because of the funding of the Trust Fund. The Trust Fund receives money from sales of manatee license plates and decals, boat registration fees, and voluntary donations. Revenues for FY 2020-21 totaled $4,163,374. Appropriations from the Trust Fund for the same period were $3,303,282, with $286,678 provided for manatee research activities at Mote Marine Laboratory (Mote), and a service charge to General Revenue of $333,302 that most trust funds are required by law to pay. In FY 2020-21, FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation expended $942,118 for conservation activities and the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) expended $1,857,775 on research and monitoring. Details of revenues, appropriations, and expenditures are shown on page 6 of this report.