The alarming number of manatee deaths in Florida in 2021 has prompted two Florida congressmen to introduce legislation upgrading the iconic mammal from “threatened” to “endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The change in designation would give the animal the highest level of federal protection available.
If the species is upgraded, it will require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to give more attention to manatee population rehabilitation and increase federal resources that include more funding and personnel to help the population rebound.
“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” said U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan, co-sponsor of the bill along with Representative Darren Soto. “This year’s record-breaking number of manatee deaths is staggering and extremely concerning, which is why upgrading their ESA status is absolutely critical. We must do everything we can to protect these gentle giants and Florida’s official marine mammal.”
There have been a reported 890 manatee deaths this year, already more than the previous high of 830 in 2013. Many of the deaths are from starvation due to the lack of seagrass in the waters around the state. Many officials have blamed the death of the seagrass on waste and pollution run-off.
“2021 was the deadliest year for the manatee in our home state of Florida,” Congressman Soto added. “These mass deaths should alarm us all and incite us to take immediate action to protect these precious mammals. By adding the West Indian manatee to the ESA’s endangered list, we are ensuring that necessary steps are taken to prevent any more unnecessary deaths.”
Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, said, “Mortality has nearly tripled since last year, even though it’s just August. The United States and Florida officials must reassess their management strategies and work must start with a designation of manatees as endangered under federal law.”
Patrick Rose, aquatic biologist and executive director of the animal welfare groups Save the Manatee Club, echoed Pacelle’s concerns.
“Save the Manatee Club supports the bold decisive actions of Congressmen Vern Buchanan and Darren Soto,” said Rose, “The tragic loss of nearly 20 percent of the Florida manatees’ East Coast population in just 6 months alone, confirms what a tragic mistake it was for manatees to be prematurely taken off the list of Endangered Species.”
The 2017 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to downgrade manatees from “endangered” met objections from scientists, who warned of tragic consequences.
The only recent action taken with regard to manatees was a U.S. House measure authored by Buchanan to transfer $2 million to FWS to examine the record number of manatee deaths in Florida this year and report to Congress on ways to help protect the beloved mammal.