Manatees are found in Florida yet beloved around the world for their plodding, languid behavior and slightly dopey appearance. Since the 1970s, clubs and groups have raised awareness and funds to protect these so-ugly-they-are-cute “sea cows”, which reside in shallow, slow-moving bodies of water. Citing a consistently growing population and successful regulations and efforts by the government and local community, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed West Indian manatees from the endangered species list last week. But that may not be a good thing.
While “downlisting” these manatees from endangered to “threatened” might seem like a cause for celebration, some animal and environmental groups aren’t quite ready to break out the algae, grass, or mangrove leaves (preferred snacks of the species). The Save the Manatee Club, for example, is concerned about habitat destruction for the manatees and motorboat accidents and deaths as well as as a loosening or reversal of environmental regulations under the current administration. The US Fish and Wildlife Service purports that federal and state protections for manatees won’t change, but certain manatee-minded parties are pushing for a long-term manatee recovery plan that would address the boat- and habitat-related problems. Effects of climate change and chemical runoff (leading, in the past, to toxic algal blooms) are also continuing causes for concern.
Manatees were put on the endangered species list in 1967. While manatee numbers dipped to a population of only a few hundred in the 1970s, their population has increased dramatically with more than 6,000 manatees counted for the past three years. A survey this year found a preliminary total of 6,620 manatees. Efforts including river habitat restoration and regulations targeting speeders in manatee zones are among the reasons for the manatee population’s recovery.