U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Stephanie Murphy are backing bipartisan legislation to funnel more federal funds to local initiatives protecting manatees and other marine wildlife.
The two are filing the measure, titled the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act, after a spike in manatee deaths observed earlier this year. Florida counted 403 manatee deaths between Jan. 1 and Feb. 26. That’s triple the expected number.
In March, Murphy requested the federal government study the issue and help determine a cause. Now, she and Mast are teaming up to put some money toward the effort as well.
“Floridians take great pride in our state’s diverse wildlife, like manatees, dolphins, and other marine mammals. As we see from surging manatee deaths in Florida, these creatures need our help,” Murphy said.
“I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will bolster federal support for efforts to rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals that are in distress, and to improve emergency response and scientific research so we can act before it’s too late.”
If approved, the legislation from Mast and Murphy increases funding for the Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program and the Unusual Mortality Event fund. As explained by a release from Murphy’s office, the federal government uses those two programs “to support efforts by local governments and nonprofit organizations to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals and to determine what is causing the mammals to experience problems.”
Some analysts have theorized that a decline in sea grass — the main food source for manatees — drives the uptick in deaths.
The measure would also create the Joseph R. Geraci Marine Mammal Rescue and Rapid Response Fund to help local governments and nonprofit organizations access funding to treat marine mammals in emergencies. Geraci was a scientist and veterinarian who worked on marine mammal medicine and aquatic wildlife conservation.
“This bipartisan legislation will provide federal support for efforts to rescue and rehabilitate these mammals while also strengthening efforts to stop this destruction before it’s too late,” Mast added.
“Decades of special-interest-driven policymaking, including unfettered pollution and toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee, have destroyed the ecology of our waterways and repeatedly turned the Indian River Lagoon into an algae-infested toxic waterway that kills manatees. Sadly, these animals are also the so-called ‘canary in the coal mine’ for a massive public health crisis in our state that must be stopped ASAP.”
Another provision in the legislation would set up a Marine Mammal Health Monitoring and Analysis Platform to ramp up data collection on marine mammal deaths. And the bill would direct the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to study large marine mammal death events.