WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan today called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to upgrade the manatee from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” said Buchanan. “We should provide these gentle giants with the highest levels of federal protection.”
According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 761 manatees have died so far this year. That number is on pace to shatter the previous record of 804 deaths set in 2018. Currently, there are only around 6,500 Florida manatees in the southeastern United States.
“When a species becomes extinct, it is lost forever,” said Buchanan. “We cannot afford to let that happen to these iconic residents of Florida and the state’s official marine mammal.”
In 2016, Buchanan formally objected to the FWS downgrading the manatee’s ESA designation from endangered to threatened, noting that the FWS may have been using outdated data to support the reduction in protection. Buchanan was concerned the manatee’s population would decline if their status was downgraded to threatened. The manatee was previously listed as an endangered species dating back to 1966.
Manatees face a variety of threats to their existence, including habitat loss, water and food quality degradation caused by red tide and watercraft collisions.
“It was very ill-advised for the Fish and Wildlife Service to weaken the Manatee’s protections in 2017,” said Buchanan. “Given the alarming surge in manatee deaths this year, upgrading their ESA designation is critical.
Read the full text of the letter below.
Dear Director Williams:
I write to request that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) exercise its authority to upgrade the manatee’s status from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
According to FWS, there are around 6,500 Florida manatees living in the southeastern United States. Tragically, a staggering 761 manatees have died so far this year. That number is on pace to shatter the previous record set in 2018 with a total of 804 deaths.
As you know, in 2017 your agency downgraded their status to “threatened,” which I formally objected to at the time and warned would “lead to a decline in the manatee population.”
Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida, and we should be doing everything in our power to protect them and ensure their continued survival. Considering the number of manatee deaths so far this year, redesignating the manatee as endangered, which provides for the highest levels of federal protection and conservation efforts, is critical.
There is a broad consensus among marine biologists and conservationists that the driving force behind the rapidly growing death rate is the degradation of the water quality in manatee habitats, growing levels of water pollution and an increase of harmful algal blooms that kill off seagrass.
As seagrass disappears, manatees starve to death. Wildlife observers noted earlier this year that many of the dead manatees washing up on the shores were seriously emaciated.
Manatees faced extinction in the late 1960s and it took decades for them to recover under the ESA’s robust regime of protections.
Again, I urge you to re-designate the manatee as endangered to ensure the survival of these gentle giants. Time is of the essence.
I look forward to your prompt reply on this important matter.