Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., wants to increase federal funding to local governments and nonprofits for rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals, a response to the startling death rate of manatees in Florida this year.
Mast has introduced the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act. Democrat Stephanie Murphy, who represents potions of the Orlando area, is its cosponsor. The legislation could bring $7 million a year to help protect and study the deaths of marine mammals.
More Florida manatees have died in the first three months of 2021 than in all of 2020, most of them in the Indian River Lagoon’s stretch through Brevard County, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data available Wednesday. The threshold was hit in mid-April, with 649 manatee deaths in just over three months.
In part, experts attribute the deaths to a decline in seagrass habitat, which leaves manatees starved. In March, federal wildlife officials agreed to call the deaths an Unusual Mortality Event, or a UME.
Now, members of Congress are looking to update the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and reauthorize the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program.
The bipartisan legislation would allocate at least $42 million over six years to help with the recovery, care and treatment of sick, injured and entangled marine mammals. The efforts would now be known as the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue and Response Grant Program.
Beginning this year, up to $7 million annually in grants could be provided, with $500,000 available for a specific rapid-response program. Each grants likely would be up to $150,000, according to the bill.
The program also would help to create a database for sick or dead marine mammals, such as manatees, to better and more quickly study broader trends to these deaths. Some data would be publicly available within 30 days of researchers analyzing an incident, and entire reports would be available annually, created through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Grants also would be made for training for emergency response in areas where it does not or barely exists.
“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 said in a statement.
Murphy, pointing to the rise in deaths to manatees, said in a statement that “these creatures are in desperate need of our help.”
Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington is sponsoring a similar bill. The legislation would help study sick and injured marine mammals in the Arctic.
Read the bill here:
Staff writer Max Chesnes contributed to this report.
Joshua Solomon is a politics reporter covering the Treasure Coast. You can reach him at 772-692-8935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.