ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Manatees dying in the hundreds in Florida, mainly due to pollution-induced famine, should be re-listed as an endangered species, environmental groups said Monday in a petition looking for the change.
The petition filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims it was a mistake to remove manatees from the endangered list in 2017, leaving the slow-moving marine mammals listed only as endangered. They have been on the endangered species list since 1973.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service now has a chance to right its wrong and protect these desperately endangered animals,” said Ragan Whitlock, attorney for the Florida-based Center for Biological Diversity.
Below the Endangered Species Act, a species is considered endangered if it is “threatened with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range”. An endangered species is a species that may become endangered in the foreseeable future.
The petition, also sponsored by the Save the Manatee Club, Miami Waterkeeper and others, claims that pollution from fertilizer runoff, leaking septic tanks, sewage discharges and increased development are causing algal blooms that have destroyed much of the seagrass on which manatees depend. killed. on the east coast of Florida.
That resulted in the deaths, mostly from starvation, of a record 1,100 manatees in 2021 and continuing this year, with at least 736 manatee deaths reported Nov. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The 2021 deaths represented 13% of all manatees estimated to live in Florida waters.
Placing the manatee back on the endangered species list would improve federal control of projects and issues involving manatees and increase resources and expertise to address the problem, said Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club.
“Reclassifying manatees as endangered will be a critical first step in righting a terrible mistake,” Rose said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to determine whether reinstating the manatee’s status is warranted and, if so, 12 months from the date of the petition to review the manatee’s status.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said in an email that officials “are aware of the petition. Service personnel will review the petition through our normal petition processes.”
Meanwhile, state conservationists say they will launch a second year of experimental lettuce feeding to manatees that gather by the hundreds in winter in the warm water that drains off a power plant near Cape Canaveral.
Last year about 202,000 pounds (91,600 kilograms) of mostly donated lettuce was fed to manatees under the program. But wildlife experts warn that starvation is a chronic problem that will continue to harm the manatee population without more focus on reducing pollution.
“With astonishing losses of seagrass in the state, we need to address water quality issues to give the manatee a chance to thrive and survive,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper.