Manatees Downlisted from Endangered to Threatened under the Endangered Species Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Haley McKey, 202-772-0247, hmckey@defenders.org

WASHINGTON (March 30, 2017) –  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) downlisted the West Indian manatee, including the Florida manatee, from endangered to threatened status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) today.  

Defenders of Wildlife commissioned an independent analysis and found significant shortcomings in the agency’s 2016 proposal to downlist the manatee, including outdated population information that did not reflect significant manatee die-offs between 2009 and 2016 or the impacts of climate change. Based on this expert report and its own analysis of the rule, Defenders of Wildlife believes that the best available scientific data do not currently support downlisting the West Indian manatee species.  

This manatee downlisting proposal is premature and improperly yields to pressure from private interests in Florida that want to ignore necessary protections to save this iconic species. The FWS has not adequately considered ongoing threats to the current population, such as the impacts of boat strikes and widespread mortality from algae blooms that have killed thousands of manatees and resulted in loss of seagrass habitat in recent years.

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark:

“While the downlisting of the manatee to threatened does not by itself reduce its protections under the Endangered Species Act, it may create the incorrect impression that the manatee is doing better than it is, and that those protections can be reduced. 

“The Florida manatee population has grown thanks to federal, state, local and private conservation efforts, but it still needs protections like slow-speed boating zones and a clear strategy for providing manatees with access to natural sources of warm water in winter. Without these safeguards in place, we risk losing more manatees to preventable causes of mortality, like boat strikes and winter cold shock. We are also concerned about the hundreds of manatee deaths tied to algae blooms in manatee habitat such as southwest Florida and the polluted Indian River Lagoon and continuing loss of the manatee’s seagrass feeding grounds.  

“Defenders of Wildlife will be watching to ensure that federal, state and local protections for manatees remain in place and we will fight any attempts to weaken them. Downlisting must never be an excuse to strip away protections that keep manatees safe and that will help them to recover, including manatee protection speed zones and habitat restoration projects that will ensure the future of one of Florida’s unique and iconic species.” 

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