More evidence of plastics harm to Florida manatees

By Ed Rodgers

The manatees found along Florida’s Gulf Coast already face numerous threats to their survival: Boat strikes, red tide, harmful algal blooms, and a loss of the sea grass beds that provide their main food source have taken a toll on the gentle herbivores.

A new study adds to evidence showing that manatees are facing another serious threat: Plastics.

Researchers from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg conducted a study examining the remains of 26 dead manatees from Tampa Bay, Florida, over a 28-month period and found more than 73% of the animals had plastic particles or microplastics in their gastrointestinal systems and 76% of the manatees had some form of plastic in their digestive tracts.

Study co-author Shannon Gowans said the microplastic exposure appears to be coming from concentrations of pollutants in sea grass beds where manatees graze.

“We couldn’t actually look through all of their gut contents so we only sub-sampled a small amount. So, while we found 76% had some plastics there’s a good chance that a lot more had plastics,” Gowans said.

The study found monofilament fishing line was the most common type of plastic found during in the animals.