Stuart, Fla. – U.S. Representatives Brian Mast (FL-18) and Stephanie Murphy (FL-7) today introduced the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act. This bipartisan legislation will help protect marine mammals like manatees, dolphins, seals and whales by increasing federal funding available for local governments and non-profit organizations to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals. The bill will also increase research on how to prevent the deaths.
“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 that kills manatees. 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,” Rep. Mast said. “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.”
More Florida manatees died in the first three months of 2021 than in all of 2020 and most of the deaths were concentrated in the Indian River Lagoon. Data indicates that a decline in seagrass is starving the manatees to death. Toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee kill seagrass. The increase in deaths has been classified as an “Unusual Mortality Event.”
“Floridians take great pride in our state’s diverse wildlife, like manatees, dolphins, and other marine mammals. As we see from surging manatee deaths in Florida, these creatures are in desperate need of our help,” Rep. 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 sick or injured, and improve scientific research and emergency response so we can act before it’s too late.”
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.
In addition to improving the Prescott Grant Program and the Unusual Mortality Event fund, the bill would create the “Joseph R. Geraci Marine Mammal Rescue and Rapid Response Fund.” This program would ensure that local governments and non-profit organizations can quickly access emergency funding to treat marine mammals with immediate health concerns.
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.
Companion legislation is led in the U.S. Senate by Senator Maria Cantwell (WA). Text of the legislation can be found below.