The U.S. Department of Interior announced that West Indian manatees moved from an endangered to threatened species as of March 30. This upgrade comes after decades of work to increase manatee populations in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has worked hand in hand with state and local governments, businesses, industry and countless stakeholders over many years to protect and restore a mammal that is cherished by people around the world,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
On the surface, this upgrade in status sounds like good news. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida now has 6,620 manatees in its waters. Back in the 1970s, only a few hundred manatees lived in the Atlantic waters. Some people, though, don’t see the change in the manatees’ status as good news. In fact, they worry that it may bring bad news in the long run for the beloved animals.
‘This Is A Devastating Blow To Manatees’
Some manatee experts believe the downgrade in endangered status comes too soon. They think more needs to be done to protect the species.
“We believe this is a devastating blow to manatees,” said Patrick Rose, Executive Director for the Save the Manatee Club (SMC) in a press release. “FWS decided to prematurely downcast 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 habitats on which more than 60 percent of the Florida manatee population depends.”
In other words, without its endangered classification, manatees no longer require special protections under the law. And, with no plan or protections in place, they are at risk.
According to SMC, data from 2010 to 2016 showed some disturbing trends. For example, manatees “suffered from unprecedented mortality events linked to habitat pollution, dependence on artificial warm water sources and record deaths from watercraft strikes.”
Florida Congressman Vern Buchanan added his concern to the decision.
“The decision to weaken protections under the Endangered Species Act threatens the survival of the manatee, one of Florida’s most beloved animals. It needs to be reversed,” he wrote in an official statement.