EPA Sued Over Harm to Wildlife in Indian River Lagoon

Save the Manatee Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Defenders of Wildlife have filed a complaint against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect manatees and other wildlife harmed by allegedly poor water quality. They call upon the agency to readdress the environmental standards governing the Indian River Lagoon.

The organization explained that, when it was created in 1970, the EPA was tasked with the broad task of protecting the environment, and with the Clean Water Act of 1972, Congress charged the agency to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” A year later, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act to identify and protect species in danger of extinction. 

The Indian River Lagoon is an estuary on Florida’s Atlantic coast approximately twenty-five miles north of West Palm Beach. The lagoon features brackish waters which deter many predators, allowing young sea creatures to grow before they move on to the open ocean. The lagoon is also home to fields of seagrass, on which manatee subsist and in which smalltooth sawfish and sea turtles live. Smalltooth sawfish are endangered, while sea turtles and manatee are only threatened.

Unfortunately, the organizations say, manatee and sea turtles living in the lagoon have been dying at an unprecedented rate in recent years, and the plaintiffs argue the cause can be traced back to pollutants entering the water at rates that lead to sea grass dying off and sea turtles developing tumors. As such, they seek the EPA to reinitiate the Endangered Species Act, consult with the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to create new, stricter standards to protect the lagoon and the wildlife within.

The complaint was filed in the Middle District of Florida where the lagoon resides. The coalition of nonprofits sent two sixty-day notices, the first on December 20, 2021 and the second on February 7, 2022. 

Save the Manatee Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Defenders of Wildlife are being represented by Earthjustice.