By Jon Paul “J.P.” Brooker
November is Manatee Awareness Month, and while people from all over the world know a lot about Florida’s famous sea cows, there is a lot about manatees that people don’t know. Let me break down some manatee mysteries:
▪ Manatees don’t vote. They don’t lobby Tallahassee (too far from the coast to swim there) or Capitol Hill (too cold). They don’t participate in rulemaking procedures, public testimony, written comments or any other part of the regulatory process.
Never in recorded history has a manatee written a statute or introduced a bill. Manatees know nothing of appropriations. They don’t give stump speeches. They don’t bundle funds or participate in campaign events.
Manatees prefer to be in clean Florida water, chowing down on sea grass.
▪ Manatees don’t drive boats. There has never been an instance of a manatee driving a boat and striking a human with a boat. Manatees don’t disobey speed zones in their boats, drink alcohol and drive boats, or boat outside motor-exclusion zones. Manatees like calm, clean water where speeding boats are least likely to strike them.
▪ Manatees don’t pollute. They don’t build high-rise condos, use septic tanks or fertilize their lawns. They are not sugar farmers or phosphate miners, nor are they in the Army Corps of Engineers and responsible for Lake Okeechobee water discharges through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
They don’t cut down mangrove forests, pave over the Everglades or bleach the Florida Coral Reef Tract. Believe it or not, manatees are not responsible for increasingly frequent and severe harmful algal blooms like red tide that kill off their main food source, sea grass. Manatees prefer healthy ecosystems that haven’t been destroyed by rampant, unchecked coastal development.
▪ Manatees don’t litter. They don’t toss garbage down storm drains or on the street, pitch cigarette butts on the sand or use endless amounts of single-use items like plastic bags, plastic straws and utensils, or plastic bottles. In fact, manatees don’t use any consumer products at all — they have no need for the products of the throwaway culture that we humans have created.
▪ Manatees are not contributing to a changing climate. Manatees don’t drive cars or generate electricity using fossil fuels. Manatees don’t release any carbon into the atmosphere at all.
In fact, they are responsible for keeping important carbon sinks like sea grass meadows healthy by pruning and manicuring them through their eating habits.
Manatees do not participate in climate negotiations like the ones that took place this month in Egypt at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Manatees are deeply susceptible to a warming ocean, as warming water worsens harmful algal blooms and increases losses of sea grass acreage, and yet manatees have no voice at the table when it comes to the climate-change discussion.
I encourage folks who love manatees to embrace their best habits —don’t pollute, don’t litter, don’t recklessly develop the Florida coast. Think more about the manatee as you go about your everyday lives — when you vote, when you shop and when you try to do your bit to reduce the impacts of climate change. The future of the manatee depends on us acting now to protect our oceans and coasts.
Jon Paul “J.P.” Brooker is the director of Florida Conservation and an attorney for Ocean Conservancy. He is a native Floridian based in St. Petersburg.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.