MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. - First, you smell the foul odor, then you see the shocking images of skulls, bones, and rotting carcasses.
These former shells of life are spread across a handful of islands near Manatee Cove Park, serving as graveyards for Florida's manatees.
"I would say it is a manatee boneyard. We didn’t even have the time or the respect to bury them. We have just left them out in the open here to decompose," said Katrina Shadix, the executive director of an environmental conservation nonprofit.
Kayaking across the Indian River Lagoon, you can find where crews who find dead manatees take them to decompose. These graphic scenes, tucked away on a remote island, puts the issue into perspective. Biologists say a lot of it is our fault. Environmentalists believe these manatees starved to death.
Shadix says sewage and fertilizer runoff kill seagrass, an important food source for Florida's manatees.
"So we are putting chemicals into our waterways along with sewage treatment being inferior. We also have boat strikes but that is not the case this year. It’s the starvation and it’s the death of the ecosystem, not being able to provide the food for the manatees and all the other sea life," Shadix said.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), from January 1 to March 5, the entire state recorded 432 manatee deaths. Brevard County is at the center of the manatee crisis, with 164 deaths.
"This is kind of representative of what is going on in the entire state of Florida. We are hiding away our problems, we are hiding away our mistakes and we are hiding away our environmental crimes," Shadix said.
Hopefully, maybe these manatees didn’t die in vain," she added.
The FWC says their biologists verify and record the location of all reported dead manatees. They also confirmed that their staff leaves the bodies in secluded areas to decompose naturally.
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