Highly Controversial Federal Action Puts Manatees in Harm’s Way
First published by Save The Manatee Club, March 30, 2017
Today the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) issued its final rule to downgrade the status of the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The rule affects both the Florida and Antillean subspecies and was pursued despite strong scientific and legal evidence that shows the downlisting of manatees is not warranted at this time. The FWS decision leaves manatees and their habitat exposed to attacks and could ultimately preclude the species' recovery.
“We believe this is a devastating blow to manatees,” said Patrick Rose, Executive Director for Save the Manatee Club (SMC). With regard to Florida manatees in particular, Rose stated, “FWS decided to prematurely downlist manatees without a proven viable plan for reducing record-high watercraft-related manatee deaths and without establishing a long-term plan for the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat on which more than 60% of the Florida manatee population depends. A federal reclassification at this time will seriously undermine the chances of securing the manatee’s long- term survival. With the new federal administration threatening to cut 75% of regulations, including those that protect our wildlife and air and water quality, the move to downlist manatees can only be seen as a political one.”
Dr. Katie Tripp, SMC’s Director of Science and Conservation, says it is unclear why FWS chose to downlist the entire species. "The FWS rule states that the agency estimates the total West Indian Manatee population to be between 8,396 and 13,142 individuals. When the minimum population estimate from Florida is subtracted from this estimate that leaves 1,776 to 6,522 manatees scattered in small, isolated populations throughout the Wider Caribbean. So many countries in the Antillean manatee's range are experiencing increased habitat destruction. Additionally, countries like Belize have seen a sharp rise in watercraft-related manatee injuries and deaths in recent years and manatees in some of these countries still die at the hands of poachers."
Save the Manatee Club believes the FWS decision failed to adequately consider data from 2010 to 2016, during which time manatees suffered from unprecedented mortality events linked to habitat pollution, dependence on artificial warm water sources, and record deaths from watercraft strikes.
Anne Harvey Holbrook, SMC's Staff Attorney explained that "this reclassification comes at a time when manatees are experiencing extreme and uncontrolled threats to their survival. The decision to prematurely remove the West Indian manatee from the Endangered Species list lacks scientific justification and is not legally defensible.”
Learn more about opposition to manatee downlisting.
Read: Scientists and the Public Support Keeping Manatees' Endangered Status.
See a summary outlining reasons why the FWS proposal to downlist manatees is premature.