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Another lawsuit over Florida's ailing manatees targets wastewater pollution

The vast majority of manatee deaths have been in the Indian River Lagoon, a biologically diverse east coast estuary that has been plagued with water quality problems and widespread seagrass losses. Photo courtesy the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The vast majority of manatee deaths have been in the Indian River Lagoon, a biologically diverse east coast estuary that has been plagued with water quality problems and widespread seagrass losses. Photo courtesy the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

A new lawsuit is pressing Florida’s top environmental leader to address wastewater problems contributing to an unprecedented manatee die-off in the Indian River Lagoon. 

The lawsuit is over leaky septic tanks and sewage spills that have helped lead to widespread water quality problems and seagrass losses in the Indian River Lagoon.  

The lost seagrass has left manatees starving. A record 1,100 manatees died last year in Florida, and mortalities this year are on track for another near-record. 

A central Florida-based non-profit called Bear Warriors United filed the lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act. Manatees are listed federally as threatened. 

The lawsuit is against Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The litigation is the latest over Florida’s ailing manatees. Other lawsuits have targeted water pollution and lost habitat. 

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.