manatee close up portrait underwater
April 3, 2017

Manatee no longer considered endangered– but is this a good thing?

It should be good news when a creature is removed from the endangered species list, but in the case of the West Indian manatee, which was downgraded from “endangered” to “threatened” last week, conservationists are reacting with more concern than celebration, according to reports.

The move was officially announced by the US Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, and as the Washington Post pointed out, the massive marine mammal has made a remarkable recovery over the past few decades, with the Florida manatee population rising from a few hundred when it was originally listed in 1973 to an estimated 6,620 today.

FWS spokesman Phil Kloer called the manatee “a success story” during a phone interview with Reuters, and in a statement, acting director Jim Kurth said, “While there is still more work to be done to fully recover manatee populations... manatee numbers are increasing and we are actively working with partners to address threats.”

However, not everyone sees it the same way, according to NPR. Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) called the decision “HUGELY disappointing,” and told reporters that the move may harm his home state, where the creature known also known as the sea cow even has its own special license plate. Likewise, Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, said “We believe this is a devastating blow to manatees.”

“A federal reclassification at this time will seriously undermine the chances of securing the manatee’s long- term survival,” he added in a statement. “With the new federal administration threatening to cut 75% of regulations, including those that protect our wildlife and air and water quality, the move to downlist manatees can only be seen as a political one.”

Officials insist the species will continue to be protected

Rose said that he believes that the FWS acted “prematurely” in downgrading the threat to the manatee, adding that the agency does not have a plan in place for reducing watercraft-related threats or the potential loss of warm weather habitat the creatures rely upon in the winter.

Frank Jackalone, director of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, also criticized the decision, telling Reuters that it will likely encourage local lawmakers to ease boating rules put in place to protect the species. State statistics indicate that 104 of the 520 manatees that died in Florida last year were killed by watercraft, while the Post reports that, based on statistics from the Center for Biological Diversity, at least 668 manatees were killed by boats from 2008 through 2014.

FWS officials emphasized that the manatee will “continue to be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act” and told NPR that they do not believe that the reclassification would have any significant affect on their population. While an “endangered” species is believed to be in danger of becoming extinct, a “threatened” one is considered to become endangered in the foreseeable future, the media outlet explained.

As part of the review process, the agency said that it looked at the status of the West Indian manatee, including the Florida manatee subspecies throughout its range, as well as the Antillean manatee (which is found in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Greater and Lesser Antilles).

They added that while the downlisting “represents a milestone for the manatee” that “important challenges still remain to ensuring the species’ long-term future throughout its range. As such,” the FWS insists that the species would “continue to be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act” and that the move would “not diminish any existing federal protections that will continue to play a vital role in the recovery of the species.”

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