Your tl;dr Summary:
Feds: There are more manatees so that endangered species thing is solved.
Scientists: What about the fact that we are providing a lethal habitat for them?
Feds: There are MORE MANATEES.
Data from recent years shows that manatees are being killed in record numbers due to human induced threats such as boat strikes and red tide. The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced its decision to remove the animals from the endangered species list (downlisting them as “threatened”) citing an increase in population. Current estimates put the Florida manatee over 6600. But Save the Manatee points out that population numbers were not the only issues that landed the animals there in the first place:
[H]uman threats to manatees and habitat, not low population counts, were the reason for the manatee’s Endangered Species listing. The species still faces these threats today and mitigating these factors is the standard for recovery.
Not only have the factors not been mitigated, they’re going to get worse:
We believe this is a devastating blow to manatees,” said Patrick Rose, Executive Director for Save the Manatee Club (SMC). With regard to Florida manatees in particular, Rose stated, “FWS decided to prematurely downlist manatees without a proven viable plan for reducing record-high watercraft-related manatee deaths and without establishing a long-term plan for the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat on which more than 60% of the Florida manatee population depends. A federal reclassification at this time will seriously undermine the chances of securing the manatee’s long- term survival. With the new federal administration threatening to cut 75% 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.”
Politics, politics everywhere and all the boards did shrink.
Downlisting is dangerous for manatees for several reasons. It puts manatees on a slippery slope where disputed population numbers alone may be used to remove protections in future. People will see the current measures as being adequate in saving the animal when in fact many of the issues threatening the manatee remain unaddressed. As an example, an increasing number of manatees gather near the artificially warmed waters near power plants in winter. There are currently no plans in place to replace these habitats if and when these power plants shut down.
The Center for Biological Diversity also opposed the federal reclassification, calling 2016 “the deadliest year to date” for the animals[.]
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) called it “HUGELY disappointing” and promised to reach out to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
WaPo also reminds readers about the orphaned manatee calf rescued by a Florida zoo last fall who died 3 months into his care because he had eaten so much trash off the ocean floor – a tragic example of the continuing human threat to manatees.
So yay, there are more manatees but geez, it seems like before removing them from the endangered species list the feds should conduct an in-depth and comprehensive examination of all the factors threatening the animal and obtain input from manatee advocates who study them – not just punch up a calculator.
Nobody knew that protecting lives could be so complicated, I guess.
What you can do: Contact the USFWS (and/or tweet them) and ask them to reconsider removing the manatee from the endangered species list and focus their efforts on addressing the human induced threats to the manatee’s habitat and long-term recovery.