By Alison Godlove
Published on November 29, 2022
In an effort to save manatees in Florida, environmental groups have filed a petition to get them back on the endangered species list.
The petition, sponsored by The Center for Biological Diversity, Miami Waterkeeper, Save the Manatee Club, and others, says it was a mistake to have taken manatees off the endangered species list in 2017. They had been on the list since 1973. Right now, manatees are listed as “threatened.”
The petition, filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claims that habitat destruction is one of the leading threats to the manatee population because it destroys seagrass, which manatees feed on. It says that seagrass is being lost to algal blooms and Karenia brevis, blooms known as “red tide.”
Other causes of depleting seagrass discussed in the petition are boating, coastal development like dredging, storms, stormwater runoff, fertilizers and herbicides, legacy nutrients, and septic tank leaks. Climate change is also expected to worsen the cause of seagrass loss.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days from the petition’s filing on November 12 to look into whether to put manatees back on endangered status, and then 12 months to review the manatee’s status.
The Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act considers a species endangered when it faces extinction “throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” When a species is placed on the list, it is automatically protected from harm, harassment, collecting, or killing.
Protections are ensured through various regulations.
The Manatee Population
The West Indian manatee, along with the subspecies, the Florida manatee and the Antillean manatee, referenced in the petition, is a large, aquatic mammal. With a population of at least 13,000, there are more than 6,500 in the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico. In 1991, there were about 1,267 manatees in Florida.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is investigating a high level of manatee mortalities and is responding to manatee rescues in the central and south Atlantic coasts of Florida. FWC says the population in the state is now 7,520, and it continues to protect and conserve the species.
Help Save The Manatees
There are programs that continue to protect and save manatee populations. Thanks to donations, Wildlife Florida bought more than 202,000 pounds of lettuce to be fed to manatees at Florida Power & Light’s Cape Canaveral Plant.
For a $5 (or more) donation when registering your vehicle or vessel, the Florida tax collector will give you a manatee decal that shows your support for the Save the Manatee Trust Fund. The donations support manatee research, rehabilitation, and educational programs.
There are other ways you can support the manatee population, including beach cleanups and smart and safe boating practices.