Manatees: No Longer Endangered

April 4, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

After 3 consecutive years of population increase, the manatee has moved from an endangered species to a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced Thursday that the manatee is officially no longer listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

The marine mammal’s status has been upgraded to “threated” because the population has been increasing for 3 consecutive years.

This is a sign of successful recovery, according to federal wildlife managers, and has come on the heels of collaborative conservation efforts from public and private organizations as well as citizens.

“The Florida manatee population has continued to increase. We see that in the surveys done every winter,” Larry Williams, USFWS state supervisor, said in a press briefing.

But while the increasing population of manatees is a positive thing, some believe reclassifying the species as threatened is a huge negative. “We believe this is a devastating blow to manatees,” said Patrick Rose, executive director for Save the Manatee Club. “A federal reclassification at this time will seriously undermine the chances of securing the manatee’s long- term survival.”

The main causes of death for manatees are habitat destruction and human objects that hinder their environment, such as boats that can strike and kill them. A growing trend, though, is artificial habitats created by power plants that give manatees more room to thrive.

With the reclassification of the species, these vital habitats could be shut down.

“Manatees are still in danger,” Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “With ongoing threats posed by boat strikes and habitat loss, we don’t support reducing protections through down-listing yet.”

Williams said these fears are unwarranted, though, as no change will be seen following the reclassification. “The same level of protection is in place,” he said. “We expect no change in speed zones, in the enforcement of speed zones, no change in manatee protection area. No changes in anything.”

According to the USFWS, there are at least 13,000 manatees living in the waters off the southeastern U.S coast and in the Caribbean as of January 2016, and a recent annual count recorded 6620 manatees in Florida alone.

The manatee has been listed as endangered for over 40 years. It is hoped that even with this reclassification, the species can continue to grow.