Nov 23, 2022 - News

Environmentalists: Manatees are "endangered"

A manatee feeds on sea grass

A manatee feeds in Kings Bay at Crystal River. Photo: Steve De Neef/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Environmentalists are calling on the feds to put the imperiled manatee back on the endangered list — a move that would send more resources to help stop the die-off and enhance federal scrutiny of projects that could affect slow-moving sea cows.

Driving the news: The Center for Biological Diversity, Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Miami Waterkeeper, Save the Manatee Club and nature enthusiast Frank S. Garcia filed a 146-page petition Monday urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify the rotund West Indian manatee and subspecies — including the Florida manatee — as endangered.

  • The petition says the Florida manatee’s observed population decreased by an average of 6.94% annually from 2017 to 2019.
  • Then an “unusual mortality event” on the Atlantic coast — starvation, from grass beds depleted by pollution and runoff — contributed to a record 1,100 reported deaths in 2021 alone. That's 13% of the subspecies’ estimated population in one year.
  • High mortality numbers continue, with 745 reported this year through Nov. 18.

Details: Under the Endangered Species Act, an “endangered” species is "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A threatened species is one that may become endangered in the foreseeable future.

Flashback: Manatees were moved from “endangered” to “threatened” in 2017, which the groups say was an error.

What they're saying: "The Fish and Wildlife Service now has the opportunity to correct its mistake and protect these desperately imperiled animals," Ragan Whitlock, attorney for the Florida-based Center for Biological Diversity, told the AP.

What’s next: The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to determine whether the petition has merit and, if it does, 12 months from the date of the petition to complete a review of the manatee’s status.

The latest: Wildlife officials plan to again feed lettuce to manatees that winter in the warm water near Cape Canaveral and the depleted seagrass beds of the Indian River Lagoon.


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