Save the Manatee Club has called the federal reclassification of the manatee “devastating” and a threat its recovery.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced Thursday that the long-protected manatee will be designated “threatened,” rather than “endangered.” The federal agency sited the growing manatee population as the primary reason for reclassifying the species.
In February, Florida wildlife managers released preliminary results of their annual winter count that found 6,620 manatees taking refuge in Florida waterways.
It was the third consecutive year the population increased — a trend that federal wildlife managers pointed to as a sign of a successful recovery for a species that once numbered in the hundreds in Florida.
“The Florida manatee population has continued to increase. We see that in the surveys done every winter,” Larry Williams, the agency’s state supervisor of ecological services, said in a press briefing.
Yet, Save the Manatee Club (SMC) is calling the reclassification premature and warned it “could ultimately preclude the species’ recovery.”
“We believe this is a devastating blow to manatees,” said Patrick Rose, executive director for SMC. “With the new federal administration threating to cut 75 percent 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.”
Rose added that while the manatee population is up, watercraft-related deaths are at a record high. He also said FWS should first come up with a viable plan to replace habitat around power plants, if they shut down. More than 60 percent of manatees take refuge each winter in the warm waters near power plants.
Save the Manatee Club believes the FWS decision failed to factor in data from 2010 to 2016, when manatees suffered from unprecedented mortality events linked to habitat pollution on Florida’s east coast.
Anne Harvey Holbrook, SMC’s staff attorney, said “the decision to prematurely remove the West Indian manatee from the Endangered Species list lacks scientific justification and is not legally defensible.”