T he deadly bloom of red tide continues to invade Florida’s southwestern coast putting many marine species at risk, including manatees, which are particularly vulnerable as herbivores and algae eaters. According to a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), it’s predicted that this toxic algae will continue blooming into 2019.

Together with partners from the FWC, the SeaWorld Rescue team has taken in 11 manatees and counting affected by red tide, treating them at SeaWorld’s critical care facilities, while readying supplies and equipment for red tide related rescues and treatment in the coming months. As one of three federally permitted manatee rehabilitation facilities, SeaWorld is treating the most critical cases, while manatees requiring continued care are relocated by the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) to other local facilities.

The toxic algae bloom sweeping across Florida has landed nearly comatose manatees in rehabilitation and thousands of dead turtles, fish and eel have washed onto the state’s scenic beaches. Rescuers are working to save marine life from blooms of the Karenia brevis algae, which produces brevetoxins and causes neurological issues when consumed. The threatened Florida manatee, which has a population of 6,131, is among the species imperiled by the naturally occurring algae, and rescuers are rushing to protect the mammals.

Five hundred forty manatees have already died this year, more than the 538 deaths recorded in 2017. Since the start of 2018, 80 manatee carcasses have been found on Florida beaches. Scientists finger brevetoxins as the likely killer.

Since May 2, when the first manatee impacted by red tide was brought to the SeaWorld, 10 manatees suffering from K. brevis exposure have arrived at the facility. Eight have survived.

When the manatees reach SeaWorld, rescuers flush the toxins out of the animals with fluids. The manatees are placed in shallow water with foam under their head to support them and let them breath fresh air. Rescuers say that if the mammals are found quickly, it only takes 24 to 48 hours of care before the effects of red tide start to dissipate.

The complete rehabilitation effort involves the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which finds imperiled organisms along the coast, and The Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, which coordinates with SeaWorld to resettle the manatees in facilities across the country, including the Cincinnati and Columbus zoos.

This year’s red tide has been particularly damaging. According to Michelle Kerr, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, this is the longest bloom since 2006.

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