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Murphy, Mast in Bipartisan Push to Protect Florida Manatees, Other Marine Mammals

May 7, 2021 by TWN Staff
Manatees find refuge in the warm waters of Blue Spring located at Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County, Florida, in a 2015 file image. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

WASHINGTON – Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and Brian Mast, R-Fla., are urging their colleagues to support bipartisan legislation to protect marine mammals like manatees, dolphins, seals, and whales. 

The Marine Mammal Research and Response Act increases funding for two initiatives — the Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program and the Unusual Mortality Event fund — that the federal government uses to support efforts by local governments and non-profit organizations to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals and to determine what is causing the mammals to experience problems.

This bill is just the latest effort by Murphy to protect Florida manatees and other threatened marine mammals.

“Floridians take great pride in on 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.”

Mast said the goal of the bipartisan effort is to undue decades of “special-interest driven policy making,” 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.

“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,” he continued “This 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.”

In March, Rep. Murphy sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urging the federal agency to investigate the sharp increase in Florida manatee deaths in the Indian River Lagoon and other Florida waterways.

In response, FWS officially declared the die-off to be an “Unusual Mortality Event.” This declaration authorized funding from the Unusual Mortality Event fund to be used to reimburse the Florida government and non-profit organizations for their efforts to save manatees and nurse them back to health.

In addition to improving the Prescott Grant Program and the Unusual Mortality Event fund, the Murphy-Mast bill would create the “Joseph R. Geraci Marine Mammal Rescue and Rapid Response Fund,” named after a late scientist and veterinarian who was a leading expert in marine mammal medicine and aquatic wildlife conservation.

This program would ensure that local governments and non-profit organizations can quickly access funding to treat marine mammals with emergency health conditions.

The bill also creates a “Marine Mammal Health Monitoring and Analysis Platform” to collect and report more data regarding marine mammal deaths, and directs the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to study marine mammal mortality events.

The Murphy-Mast bill would support the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Florida organizations like Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, all of which use federal grant funding to prevent and respond to marine mammal deaths in Florida’s waterways.

In the Senate, the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act was introduced by Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

For the text of the Murphy-Mast bill, which is also co-sponsored by Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash., click here.

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