U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, who represents the Sarasota area, has written a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking the agency to upgrade the manatee from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. 761 manatees have died so far in 2021.
The 761 deaths is on pace to shatter the previous record of 804 deaths set in 2018. Currently, there are only around 6,500 Florida manatees in the southeastern United States.
Buchanan says, “Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida. We should provide these gentle giants with the highest levels of federal protection. When a species becomes extinct, it is lost forever. We cannot afford to let that happen to these iconic residents of Florida and the state’s official marine mammal.”
In 2016, Buchanan objected to the FWS downgrading the manatee’s ESA designation from endangered to threatened, noting that the FWS may have been using outdated data to support the reduction in protection. Buchanan was concerned the manatee’s population would decline if their status was downgraded to threatened. The manatee was previously listed as an endangered species dating back to 1966.
Manatees face a variety of threats to their existence, including habitat loss, water and food quality degradation caused by red tide and watercraft collisions.
“It was very ill-advised for the Fish and Wildlife Service to weaken the Manatee’s protections in 2017,” said Buchanan. “Given the alarming surge in manatee deaths this year, upgrading their ESA designation is critical.