By Warren Wright. CREATED Oct 30, 2013
FORT MYERS, Fla.- A bleak outlook for manatees in southwest Florida.
A record number have died across the state so far this year and Lee county has the highest body count in the state.
More than 35% of all the manatee deaths for the entire state of Florida happened right here in Lee county. Its already a record number.
And, wildlife officials fear they have every reason to think it will continue to climb.
So far this year -- more than 750 manatees have died in Florida waters.
269 -- in Lee county.
The only other county that comes close ... is just on the other side of lake Okeechobee. Brevard county with 223 manatee deaths.
Lee County natural resource officials say the toxic water discharges coming out of Lake "O" are making manatees sick, with red tide being the main culprit.
And, it could get worse as they seek warmth from the cooler gulf waters this winter.
Steve Boutelle is the Lee County Wildlife Resource Manager.
He says "manatees are going to start coming up the river. And the food they used to rely on, the sea grass beds, is not there this year."
Boutelle points out the water releases have wiped out the sea grass beds.
That means, manatees either starve or commute for their dinner. in other words, their search for food will take them back into open waters ... where they face life threatening boat traffic.
Slow zone for manatees go into effect November first. And wildlife officials are reminding boaters that now is the time to start being careful.