Vote to reclassify manatees looms

TALLAHASEE, Fla. – If all goes according to plan, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee will vote on November 19 over whether to downlist manatees from their current endangered status to threatened.

If manatees are reclassified in Florida, the mammals will remain protected as endangered under the federal government; however, some feel it would give the boating industry “a powerful weapon” in its fight against dock-building restrictions and slow speed zones, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported in an article yesterday.

“It’s going to make a huge difference,” Judith Vallee, president of the Save the Manatee Club, told the newspaper. “There’s going to be a public perception that everything’s OK, that because they were downlisted, manatees are in recovery. We probably won’t see any additional measures to protect them.”

That’s exactly what the marine industry is hoping, and their wishes may come true. The most recent report from the commission recommended downlisting the manatees, though it also recognized that the manatees face considerable threats, such as the increasing number of watercraft deaths, according to the newspaper.

The newspaper said that under Florida’s law, a species is endangered if it’s likely to lose 80 percent of its population over the next 10 years or three generations, whichever is longer, and scientists are reporting that the manatee population has grown, not declined, over the last 20 years.

“They’re doing much better than they had in the past,” Elsa Haubold, the commission’s research director, told the newspaper. “Probably in 1980 there were about 1,000 manatees.”

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