Manatees have made a huge comeback as a result of significant improvements in habitat conditions and threat reduction.
Only about 1,267 West Indian manatees could be found in Florida when surveys began in 1991. Since then, the population has increased 500 percent – to 6,300 in that state and 13,000 overall.
Amidst this positive trend, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in January its proposal to down-list the status of the manatee from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act– yet keep intact federal commitments to protection that will allow the population fully recover.
“The manatee is one of the most charismatic and instantly recognizable species,” said Michael Bean, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior. “It’s hard to imagine the waters of Florida without them, but that was the reality we were facing before manatees were listed under the Endangered Species Act. While there is still more work to be done to fully recover manatee populations, their numbers are climbing and the threats to the species’ survival are being reduced. Today’s proposal is a positive step that recognizes the progress citizens, conservation groups, the State of Florida, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and our own Service employees have made working together.”
The ESA defines an endangered species as one currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and a threatened species as one that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. After a review of the best scientific and commercial information available, including analyses of threats and populations, the FWS proposed the reclassification and has opened a 90-day comment period in which the public is invited to submit scientific or technical information that will aid the agency in reaching its final decision.
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The manatee protection measures put in place by federal and Florida officials, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and industries resulted in the establishment of over 50 manatee protection areas and have played a key role in reversing the species’ decline. Retrofitted water control structures have resulted in significant decreases in manatee fatalities, and power companies are working cooperatively with federal and state conservation managers to address warm water outflows at wintering manatee congregation sites. Florida counties have made significant progress in developing and implementing manatee protection plans near boat facilities to reduce boater impacts on manatees.
Significant advances have also been made in reducing the threat from entanglement in fishing gear. Additionally, manatee rescue, rehabilitation and release organizations help save dozens of manatees yearly, with a majority successfully released back into the wild.
“The manatee’s recovery is incredibly encouraging and a great testament to the conservation actions of many,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director in conjunction with an event at the Miami Seaquarium to announce the Service’s proposal. “Today’s proposal is not only about recognizing this progress, but it’s also about recommitting ourselves to ensuring the manatee’s long-term success and recovery.
Public comments on this proposal can be made until April 7, 2016. Learn more at the FWS website. (Photo credit FWS)
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