The Center for Biological Diversity, Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Miami Waterkeeper, Save the Manatee Club, and Frank S. González García today called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase protection for West Indian manatees. The petition urges the Service to reclassify the species from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
By Center for Biological Diversity
Since the Service prematurely reduced protections in 2017, the species has declined significantly. The pollution-fueled algal bloom has triggered an ongoing mortality event that has killed more than 1,110 Florida manatees in 2021 alone. This represents 19% of the Atlantic population and 13% of all Florida manatees.
The mortality event continued apace in 2022, with 726 manatees dying through October. Manatee experts predict that high levels of malnourished and hungry manatees will continue through the winter.
“West Indian manatees from Florida to the Caribbean face drastic threats from habitat loss, boat strikes, pollution, climate change and toxic algal blooms,” Ben Rankin said. , a student lawyer at the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “Restoring the full protections of the Endangered Species Act is an essential first step in conserving this species wherever it is found.”
“The current long-term threats facing the manatee will take years, if not decades, of concerted action to resolve,” said Savannah Bergeron, an eighth-generation Floridian and student lawyer at the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “In the meantime, the least we can do is ensure that manatees get the protection they deserve under the Endangered Species Act, especially since they are so important to our coastal ecosystems and that they are one of Florida’s signature species.”
“With Florida manatees dying in the hundreds, it is painfully clear that the 2017 federal decision to downlist the species was scientifically baseless,” said Ragan Whitlock, a Florida-based attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Fish and Wildlife Service now has the opportunity to right their mistake and protect these desperately endangered animals.”
“Increasing protections for manatees with an endangered list would provide immediate protection,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper. “With staggering seagrass losses across the state, we need to address water quality issues to give the manatee a chance to survive and thrive.”
“In 2017, Save the Manatee Club strongly opposed the biologically unjustified downgrading of the manatee, and in the years since our worst fears have come true as we approach what will likely be a third winter of mass manatee mortality. and collapse of the aquatic ecosystem,” said Patrick. Rose, aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. “Re-designating manatees as endangered will be a crucial first step in righting a terrible wrong. Further, we call for the full implementation of all tools available under the Endangered Species Act, including the reinstatement of the Manatee Recovery Expert Team and other groups of work of experts such as the Manatee Warm Waters Working Group. It’s time to act.”
“It fills us with emotion each time the local press publishes information about sightings of manatees off Puerto Rico, even if it is to report that they appear injured or dead. Being able to see them is an extremely rare but very special,” said Frank S. González García, a local engineer concerned about the loss of natural resources. “The Fish and Wildlife Service could make a huge difference, by enforcing protection, designating critical habitat, and s ensuring that manatees have sufficient food and freshwater resources to thrive.”
Uncontrolled pollution – from sewage treatment discharges, leaking septic tanks, fertilizer runoff and other sources – is fueling the collapse of the Indian River Lagoon, resulting in an unprecedented mortality event. A recent study also found that more than half of Florida manatees sampled are chronically exposed to glyphosate, a powerful herbicide applied to sugar cane and aquatic weeds. Discharges from Lake Okeechobee containing glyphosate also resulted in higher concentrations of glyphosate in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
Boat strikes are another major threat to Florida manatees. On average, more than 100 manatees are killed by boaters in Florida each year. This number is expected to increase as Florida’s population continues to grow. In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Florida Springs Council and the Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has proposed a rule to educate boaters about manatees and other coastal wildlife.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to assess whether the petition to protect the endangered manatee presents substantial information indicating that the requested action may be warranted. If so, the Fish and Wildlife Service must complete a full status review of the species within 12 months of receiving this petition.
Originally listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, manatees have never really recovered. The Fish and Wildlife Service announced its final rule on March 30, 2017, downgrading the West Indian manatee from the endangered category to the threatened category, despite the fact that hundreds of manatees still die each year as a result of collisions with boats. , habitat loss and other causes.
At Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the well-being of human beings is deeply connected to nature — to the existence in our world of a great diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, large and small, on the brink of extinction. We do this through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.