The Florida manatee population has been in serious trouble for years due to factors directly and indirectly caused by humans. Now, the animals may be on the verge of getting some desperately needed help if their endangered species status is rightfully restored.
Though manatees are, in fact, critically endangered, they were removed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list in 2017 by the outgoing Trump administration, in what was decried at the time as blatant corruption. The move effectively cut off any federal funding that would have gone toward saving many threatened and endangered species.
“On the way out the door, the Trump administration tosses more handouts to its favored polluting industries — drillers, miners, and industrial clear-cutting operations — at the expense of wildlife facing extinction,” said David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice.
Although the Fish and Wildlife Service said earlier this year that it would restore blanket protections for several species, that apparently hasn’t happened for manatees yet.
Manatees suffered a record die-off in 2020 due to factors such as habitat loss, toxic algae pollution, and decimation of food supplies. The 1,200 manatees that reportedly died in 2020 was the largest die-off in a single year since records have been kept. In the past two years, another 1,000 manatees have died, and there are only an estimated 7,500 of them left in the state.
“We are at a critical point,” Ragan Whitlock, staff attorney specializing in endangered species at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Guardian. “We’ve lost 20% of the entire manatee population over the course of two years and that resulted directly after the service downlisted the species back to threatened.”
Now, if the federal government does go ahead and restore their endangered status, that could be followed by an increase in funding and staffing dedicated to saving the manatees. Previous efforts to help manatees have included wildlife officials hand-feeding the wild animals romaine lettuce in areas where their food supply had disappeared, a sign of how desperate the situation has gotten.
“It’s a baby step, honestly,” said Pat Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, in regards to the manatees’ endangered status being restored. “Unless they follow it by increasing the staffing and funding and recovery actions, we won’t get there.”
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