Ongoing conservation efforts are finally paying off as Florida’s manatee populations are rebounding and the species may even be removed from the ‘endangered’ list under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The manatee populations in Florida have increased from 1,267 individuals in 1991 to about 6,000 individuals in 2015. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), that is equivalent to a five hundred percent increase. On January 7, the USFWS proposed a downgrade for the manatees’ status.
Michael Bean, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior, said that for the manatee populations to make a full recovery there is still a lot of work to be done. Fortunately, the threats to the species’ survival have been reduced, and the numbers of manatees have continued to increase, Bean added.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service stated that artificial warm water sources, water control structures, and speed limits for boats in areas where manatee populations reside, have helped increase the number of manatees. Boat facilities have also been changed within Florida counties to prevent manatees from getting injured.
Direct rescue efforts from the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Lab have also been successful. A report of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission noted that in 2015, eighty-nine manatees were rescued. So far, twelve of them have died and fifty-four have been released back into the wild.
Brevard County Commission Vice Chair Curt Smith requested for a new study to be conducted to show whether the low-speed zones for boats (in areas where the manatees live) actually work, or whether they do not work at all.
Dr. Katie Tripp, the director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club, said that at this time, the manatees’ future is far from certain. For about thirty-five years now, the Save the Manatee Club has worked to protect the manatee populations – its final goal is to delist the animals altogether from the Endangered Species Act. However, the work is far from over, Dr. Tripp explained.
According to Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, although the manatee populations have come a long way, the animals still face a lot of threats – such as clod stress, boat strikes, and mass die offs in the Indian River Lagoon.
The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 will continue to grant protection to manatees.
Image Source: visitflorida