WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan today announced that the U.S. House unanimously passed two of his amendments to the Interior and Environment government funding bill.
“These commonsense proposals will help ensure the survival of the iconic Florida manatee and combat red tide, which for too long has wreaked havoc on marine life, our waters and the many businesses that rely on Florida’s tourism-based economy,” said Buchanan. “I am very pleased to see these measures pass with broad bipartisan support and look forward to working to see them enacted into law.”The first proposal would dedicate $1.15 million to provide for more funding into the rescue and rehabilitation of manatees.
According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), nearly 2,400 manatees have died in Florida since 2021. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated as recently as 2021 that there are only around 6,500 West Indian manatees in the southeastern United States.
Last month, FWS announced they will launch a new scientific review to determine whether manatees should be reclassified as an endangered species.
In 2021, Buchanan introduced the Manatee Protection Act to officially upgrade the West Indian manatee from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Earlier this year, the Congressman reintroduced the legislation (H.R. 131) with Rep. Darren Soto, which will also require Fish and Wildlife to refocus their attention on manatee population rehabilitation and allow for increased federal resources including more funding and personnel.
Buchanan formally objected to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgrading the manatee’s ESA designation from endangered to threatened in 2016, noting that the FWS may have been using outdated data to support the reduction in protection.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.
The second proposal would provide $2.5 million to the National Water Quality Program to bolster research into harmful algal blooms, including red tide.
Over the last several years, the Gulf Coast has experienced severe levels of red tide. Red tide is caused by toxin-producing algae that is extremely deadly to fish and other marine life and adversely affects tourism in the Suncoast region. In the 2022-2023 season, Manatee County cleared nearly 5 tons of dead fish and debris from area beaches due to the red tide outbreak.
As one of his top ten priorities this Congress, Buchanan introduced the Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act, which would amend the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to include algal blooms in the definition of a “major disaster.” This change would require the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to provide both technical and financial assistance to states suffering from outbreaks of harmful algal blooms like red tide.