The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will move to reclassify the West Indian Manatee, which it says is showing strong sings of improvement in Southern coastal waters.
Manatees have long been the face of endangered species, but this may be about to change. According to a report from Discovery News, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service no longer considers the West Indian Manatee, or sea cow, to be endangered and is moving to change its status to “threatened.”
The chubby aquatic mammal faced significant pressure from hunters, boaters and tourists for a number of decades before strong measures were taken to protect the species. Manatees joined the endangered species list roughly 50 years ago, after significant spikes in marine activity resulted in dwindling numbers.
According to Cindy Dohner, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s southeast regional director, the rebound of the manatee proves that widespread conservation efforts do have a noticeable impact on endangered species populations.
In 1991, aerial surveys indicated that there were only 1,267 individual manatees in the state of Florida. Today, there are more than 6,300 manatees in the state of Florida alone, and roughly 13,000 throughout their entire natural range, which includes the Caribbean and the coasts of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela.
The FWS cited strong improvements in population and habitat conditions as a reason for the rebound, as well as conscious reductions in specific threats, like collisions with boat propellers in shallow water. The 500 percent increase in Florida’s manatee population is a testament to the ability of the human species to give the fragile creatures the space and habitat they require.
Federal law states that an endangered species is “currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” The manatee will be reclassified as a threatened species, which is classified by the likelihood of extinction within the near future. The public will be allowed to submit comments about the decision until April 7, 2016.
While many see the move to reclassify manatees as a symbol of success, conservation advocates fear that people will become less vigilant about protecting manatees in the shallow coastal waters of the Southern U.S.
A press release from the US FWS regarding the recent reclassification can be found here.