In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced a proposal in the Federal Register to down-list West Indian manatees from endangered to threatened status throughout their range, including both the Florida manatee and the Antillean subspecies, the latter of which occurs in the Wider Caribbean.

Scientists invited by the Service to peer review the proposal opposed down-listing the species, citing continued habitat concerns and lack of sufficient data, particularly for the Antillean manatee.  Click the following link to see a summary of the scientific peer review comments submitted to the Service (links to the full comments are included at the end of this release): http://www.savethemanatee.org/FWS_Downlisting_Peer_Reviewer_Summaries.pdf.

The Service’s down-listing proposal stated for the Antillean manatee that “…population trends are declining or unknown in 84% of the countries where (Antillean) manatees are found.”  Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club, said that based on the agency’s own findings, it makes no sense for the Service to down-list Antillian manatees.  For the Florida manatee, the Service concluded that threats are being “addressed and reduced throughout the species’ range,” but Rose said, “It is absolutely false that threats are being adequately addressed or reduced.  The Service is turning a blind eye to the ongoing destruction of the manatees’ habitat even though the Endangered Species Act requires the agency to base its listing determination, in part, on the destruction or modification of a species’ habitat.”  Rose said that the likely loss of winter warm-water habitat, identified by the Service as one of the main threats, is barely being addressed at all.

Dr. Katie Tripp, the Club’s Director of Science and Conservation, further explained that Florida manatees have experienced unsustainable levels of mortality linked to Unusual Mortality Events (cold-related deaths and deaths from largely unknown causes in the Indian River Lagoon), and that Recurring Mortality Events (red tide) have not been properly addressed in the down-listing proposal.  “Much work needs to be done to safeguard Florida’s water quality and spring and river flows before the Service can say the manatees’ future is secure,” Tripp said.

In a show of overwhelming support not to reclassify the manatee at this time, the Service received nearly 87,000 comments and petition signatures in opposition to the down-listing during its 90-day public comment period, which closed on April 7th.  In stark contrast, the Service received only 72 comments supporting down-listing.

“The Service asked to hear from the public and from the scientific community, and the message they received in return was that the agency should abandon this misguided proposal and get to work on the critical projects that must be implemented before a legitimate down-listing can be considered,” said Tripp.

It will likely be early in 2017 before the Service announces its final determination about the manatees’ status.  Although the public comment period is over, Save the Manatee Club says there is still time for citizens to contact their members of Congress and ask them to speak up and oppose the manatees’ down-listing at this time and until the species’ future is secured.

“It is categorically premature for the Service to continue down this dangerous path,” said Rose.  “The public wants to see manatees protected for the long term.  I have worked for more than 45 years to secure the manatee’s future and to eventually celebrate the species’ removal from the Endangered Species list.  But because of escalating threats, manatees still need to retain their endangered status and the protective measures that only the Endangered Species Act can provide to ensure the species and its habitat can persist for centuries to come.”

For more information on manatees and the down-listing issue, visit www.savethemanatee.org.