Manatees are believed to have a long history of being hunted and, although not for commercial purposes, this is believed to be the cause behind the species’ initial decline. In more recent times, the continuing loss of habitat  and warm water refuges, collisions with watercraft, capture in locks and disturbances that prevent them from feeding, calving and resting, have become the predominant threats to manatee survival.
Although there is no precise census of Florida manatees, today’s population is estimated at approximately 5,000 individuals. The marine mammals are currently listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and by the state of Florida. They are also protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.
Key Recovery Milestones
Defenders of Wildlife was a lead plaintiff in federal and state lawsuits against the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) claiming inadequate protections for Florida manatees. The outcome was a landmark settlement in 2000 that resulted in many additional protection measures for manatees, including the creation of 17 manatee refuge and sanctuary areas. The FWC also added many other state speed zones and safe havens to its manatee protection regulations.
In December 2008, Defenders signed a petition to the FWS to make long-needed revisions to critical habitat designations for Florida manatees. In January 2010, the FWS finally agreed that the petition to revise manatee critical habitat was indeed warranted, based on the abundance of new scientific information collected since the original designation in 1976.