Manatees No Longer Classified as Endangered: Good or Bad?

The U.S. Interior Department has taken manatees off their list of endangered species this week. However, their reclassification as threatened is a move hotly debated by conservationists. According to them, this downlisting could only weaken the protections set in place for the marine mammal known as the sea cow.

A rebound of the West Indian manatee population, a species native of the Florida coastline, represented the drive behind the relisting. The animal’s habitat prolongs across the southeastern United States, all the way to the Caribbean basin. While there were only a few hundred manatees in the Florida area in the 1970s, there are now over 6,600. The Interior Department’s decision to reclassify the species reflets this spike in their numbers.

Successful Preservation Initiatives

It took over 30 years of conservation efforts to achieve this recovery. A collaboration between the U.S. government, environmentalists and Caribbean countries successfully saved the giant mammal from extinction. The species has benefited from a plethora of protective measures. Some of them involved creating manatee refuges, redesigning locks and levees, and setting up speed limits on boats to avoid collisions.

swim with manatees

Recent decades have not been kind on manatees. The marine mammals live predominantly in waters off the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean. Several threats – including collisions with boats and habitat loss – have caused a steep decline in their numbers. Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is happy to announce the manatees living in the Florida region have successfully recovered.

Phil Kloer, a spokesman for the FWS, has confirmed the department considers the manatee recovery a “success story.” The population has been doing particularly well for the past few years, marking a strong and highly-anticipated comeback.

Reclassification Spells Trouble for Manatees

While the spike in the numbers of West Indian manatees is good news, conservationists are still wary. Despite their concerns, the FWS department confirmed all the current federal protections will remain in place. But is that enough? According to Frank Jackalone, head of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, argued the decision will encourage local and state authorities to ease boating rules conceived to protect manatees.

“Florida boaters are going to take this as a signal that they can increase their speed in manatee zones,” he said in a telephone interview.

In 2016, about 520 manatees died in the Florida state alone; collisions with watercraft caused 104 deaths. Jackalone also added the Interior Department decision has failed to include the impact of the closing of old power plants in Florida. Manatees living off the coast depend on their warm water outflows when the cold weather strikes during winter months.

Therefore, keeping the manatees under the “threatened” classification will probably cause the species to soon become endangered once again. According to the official definition, any species filed under the “endangered” listing is in danger of extinction.


Why Manatee Protection Is Controversial

The proposed status downgrade for manatees was announced to the public in 2016. From the beginning, environmentalists were quick to point out the problems that came with it. According to some experts, the long-protected sea cows were still highly vulnerable to various threats. Boat collisions, pollution, loss of habitat, and climate change are just some of the perils that could decimate the species.

The manatee – also called a sea cow due to its diet of sea grass – can grow to weigh over 3,000 pounds (1,350 kg). After its total population rebounded in recent years, the Interior Department decided in favor of their reclassification. The ongoing lawsuits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the Pacific Legal Foundation also had something to do with the new classification.

The FWS gave a statement explaining that the decision “will not diminish any existing federal protections that will continue to play a vital role in the recovery of the species. The manatee will also continue to be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

The sea cow was one of the first animals included in the Endangered Species Protection Act of 1966. Back then, the Act also offered protection to grizzly bears, red wolves, American alligators, and whooping cranes. But will the manatees’ new status affect their survival chances?

More Endangered Species Make the News

In related news, trouble also follows burrowing prairie dogs. According to the three-judge panel for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal government has gained the right to preserve the prairie dog population on nonfederal land in Utah. However, the locals couldn’t be less happy with the news, given the nuisance represented by the little rodents.

The burrowing prairie dogs were classified as “endangered” in 1973 and “threatened” in 1984. However, PETPO argues the environmentalist protection has allowed the species to thrive and reach nuisance magnitudes. The rodents constantly disturb the public property, as well as the locals.’ They burrow under athletic fields and golf courses, often endangering the players. Prairie dogs also love to set up camp in cemeteries, destroying memorials and disrupting funerals.

Despite all this, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) has strictly forbidden the unauthorized killing of the Utah prairie dog. ESA does not allow locals to trap, harass or kill the rodents, unless they have a permit to do so. According to the ruling, locals may only kill 6,000 prairie dogs annually.

The Endangered Species Act

Meanwhile, environmentalists have expressed their concern about the Washington ongoing efforts to cripple the Endangered Species Act. The aim of the legislative document is to recover threatened and endangered species. If the attempts to roll-back the Act prove successful, the American wildlife would suffer gravely.

The Endangered Species Act is currently the most important piece of legislation when it comes to preserving threatened and endangered species. According to a 2016 report by the American Bird Conservancy, more than 70 percent of U.S. birds protected by the Act are now stable, about to recover, or have already been de-listed.

The Endangered Species Act also provides the United States with great economic benefits. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation determined the natural habitats protected through the Act are the source of around $1.6 trillion annually in tourism benefits.

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