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U.S. urged to relist manatee as endangered species, not as threatened

U.S.-based not-for-profit, the Ocean River Institute, is calling on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to relist the Florida manatee as endangered species. The animal is presently classified under the threatened species category.

The North American manatee

In a statement made available to EnviroNews on Sunday, March 19, 2023, the group is requesting interested persons to sign an online petition requesting the USFWS to relist the manatee as endangered.

The group submitted: “The North American manatee, the majestic marine mammal that winter along the Florida coast, is in trouble. These giant aquatic herbivores spend as much as 8 hours a day feeding on sea vegetation, so manatees have earned the nickname ‘sea cows’. They can consume four to nine percent of their body weight in seagrass daily.

“During the summer, Florida manatees live as far west as Texas and north as Massachusetts. They gather in the warm water along the coast of Florida during the cold winter months. Many take thermal refuge in waters warmed by power plants and industrial plants. During the winter, they cease their seasonal migration movement, overconsume the local seagrass, wander into colder water, and are stressed.

Nutrients (fertilisers, septic, and sewage) wash into the water to cause harmful algae blooms that kill the seagrass. A boom-and-bust cycle is put in motion, where the algae bloom is followed by a bust when bacteria consume dead algae and deplete oxygen to create ocean dead zones. Grass cannot compete with phytoplankton dominance, and manatees die.

“In Indian River Lagoon, the manatees must forage far from warm water pockets because 90% of the seagrass, about 350 square miles, has been lost to pollution and propellor damage. As a result, hundreds of manatees are starving each winter.

“In 2017, the EPA downgraded the Florida manatee from endangered to threatened. The increase in manatee deaths over the past few years makes clear that the time has come to relist the Florida manatee as endangered.

“In Florida, there were 1200 manatee deaths in 2021 and over 800 reported manatee deaths in 2022. These numbers are just carcasses found. Due to their dense bone structure, dead manatees sink and may not be counted. The number of dead in 2022 is down partially due to conservation efforts such as feeding them romaine lettuce at power plants.

“Florida manatees are an essential part of Florida’s ecosystem, much like buffalo were for grasslands. By moving about, manatees keep vegetation from becoming overgrown, help reduce invasive species, and keep waterways clear and flowing. Florida’s canals are choked with weeds and could use some manatees weed munchers to restore their health and flow.

“We must do more to protect these gentle giants. Urge decision-makers to relist North American manatees as endangered species. This listing will obligate the government to do more to rescue manatees – perhaps a manatee drive, moving them to greener pastures. Yee-haw, little dogies!”

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