ARE MANATEES A DYING BREED?
Not Anymore, Says The Federal Government In New Report
According to a report published in January of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking into reclassifying the West Indian Manatee from an “endangered” species to merely “threatened.” The Wildlife Service defines an endangered species as one vulnerable to immediate extinction, while the upgraded threatened status means extinction is less likely in the near future.
After a three-month comment period soliciting feedback from the public (now closed), the Wildlife Service will make an ultimate decision that, if finalized, will take effect starting in 2017. Regardless, the animals will remain protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Under the Endangered Species Act, Florida’s iconic manatee and its natural habitat has been given preferential treatment in hopes of boosting population numbers. And those efforts — such as rescue, rehabilitation, and habitat conservation — are paying off.
From the early 1990s, when an aerial census was first taken of the animals, their numbers have increased fivefold from about twelve hundred manatees in Florida to more than six thousand today. There are estimated to be over thirteen thousand throughout the manatee’s natural range, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean and off the South American coast.
Over the decades, the manatee’s biggest threat has proven to be humans. Manatees can be caught up in fishing equipment, get struck by speeding watercrafts, or killed by toxic “red tide” algae blooms caused by fertilizer runoff.
The Wildlife Service works closely with the Coast Guard to enforce boating and fishing laws that further shelter the manatees. Eighteen counties in Florida have manatee protection zones, including Citrus County, which boasts some of the largest numbers of manatees worldwide during the winter months.
Due to underground thermal springs found at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, local water temperatures in the Homosassa Springs and Crystal River areas remain a constant seventy-two degrees year-round. During the coldest months, these warm waters draw the manatees from far-flung regions of the Gulf and the Atlantic.
Public education about the manatees and their environment is one of the best safeguards against the species’ extinction. Bird’s Underwater gives daily manatee tours at 6AM, 11AM, and 2PM. Call today 352-563-2763 to book an appointment.