Florida Maintains Manatee's Endangered Status
Victory for Manatee Conservation!
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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was considering changing the status of the manatee from endangered to threatened on the state endangered species list. However, on December 5, 2007, the Commission voted 7-0 to maintain the manatee's status as endangered while it conducts a review of the state's endangered species classification system. The review could take months or years and our hope is that it will provide a much needed overhaul of the state's system to make it compatible with the international system for classifying imperiled species.
8,686 WWF supporters contacted the Commission before the vote and WWF sent copies of their messages to Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida. The Commission received a total of about 28,000 comments from around the world. Gov. Crist issued a statement the day before the vote saying he would be very disappointed if the manatee were to be downlisted.
Manatees Face Many Threats
Manatees spend much of their lives slowly cruising Florida’s rivers and bays, munching huge amounts of sea grass. Unfortunately, that often puts them on a collision course with the increasing number of motorboats traveling those same waterways. Of the record 416 manatees that died in Florida in 2006, 86 were killed by boats. Loss of habitat, red tide and pollution are some of the other threats manatees face. State officials estimate that 50 percent of the Florida manatee population could be lost in the next 45 years due to this array of threats.
If manatees were downlisted to threatened, existing go-slow boating rules could be dropped, resulting in more manatee injuries or deaths. And more building permits could be issued in manatee habitat.
WWF activists argued that, given the uncertainty about the size of the manatee population and given the record-setting manatee mortality rate last year, it was unwise to change the manatee's status before reducing the number of human-related manatee deaths.
Problems with Florida's Endangered Species Classification System
Florida's listing/delisting rule criteria for its imperiled species classification system is not aligned with the international system. As an example of how the two systems are mismatched, the manatee's international status was recently upgraded to endangered by the World Conservation Union based on the same criteria that Florida was using to justify reclassifying manatees to a lesser imperiled status. Aligning the two systems will better ensure that all of the state's imperiled species are correctly classified and receive the protections they need.
The Importance of Protecting Manatees
By far, the largest population in the world of West Indian manatees is found in Florida. Manatees are an important part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem and a huge tourist draw. Florida has the privilege of enjoying these benefits and the responsibility of ensuring that manatees survive into the future.
Thank you to everyone who participated in this campaign.Together, we are making a difference for these imperiled creatures.
Learn more about WWF's work in South Florida.