Petition urges USFWS to protect Florida manatees as they are endangered

Calling the decline in Florida’s manatee population “dramatic,” a coalition of groups has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase protections for the aquatic mammal.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Miami Waterkeeper, Save the Manatee Club and Frank S. González García filed the petition on Monday. The petition urges the federal wildlife agency to reclassify species from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

“Since the service prematurely reduced protections in 2017, the species has declined dramatically,” a statement from the groups said on the petition.

According to information provided by the groups, pollution-fueled algae blooms have triggered an ongoing mortality event that has killed more than 1,110 Florida manatees in 2021 alone — 19 percent of the Atlantic population and 13 percent of all manatees. in Florida.

The deaths have continued this year, the groups said, with 726 manatees dead through October. Manatee experts predict that high levels of malnourished and hungry manatees will continue throughout the winter.

“West Indian manatees from Florida to the Caribbean are facing drastic threats from habitat loss, boat strikes, pollution, climate change and toxic algae blooms,” said Ben Rankin, a student advocate at Harvard Animal Law & Policy. Clinic. the comprehensive protections of the Endangered Species Act are an essential first step in conserving this species wherever it occurs.”

“The current long-term threats faced by the manatee will take years or even decades of concerted action to resolve,” said Savannah Bergeron, an eighth-generation Floridian and student advocate at the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “In the meantime, the absolute minimum we can do is ensure manatees receive the protections they deserve under the Endangered Species Act, especially since they are so important to our coastal ecosystems and are one of Florida’s iconic species.”

The federal wildlife agency has 90 days to consider whether the petition to protect the endangered manatee has substantial information to indicate that the requested action may be warranted. If so, the service must complete a thorough review of the status of the species within 12 months of receipt of this petition.

Originally listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the West Indian manatee was listed from endangered to threatened on March 30, 2017.

A study published in 2021 concluded that Florida manatees were chronically exposed to glyphosate due to the pesticide’s application to sugar cane and aquatic weeds.

The study found glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup and the world’s most widely used pesticide, in the plasma of 55.8 percent of sampled Florida manatees. Plasma glyphosate concentration increased from 2009 to 2019.

In addition, the study authors determined that glyphosate concentrations in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and stormwater treatment areas of the Everglades agricultural area were significantly higher before and during the sugar cane harvest, when it is glyphosate is more likely to be applied than after harvest.

“The findings of this latest study are of serious concern about the chronic use, fate and effects of glyphosate on the manatee population in South Florida,” said John Cassani, of Calusa Waterkeeper, in March 2021. “One The increasing trend for manatee plasma glyphosate that correlates with the concomitant increase in glyphosate use is disturbing, especially at a time when manatee mortality is at a very high level.The authors report that the same level of exposure to glyphosate that manatees experience, causes kidney and liver damage in laboratory animals.

In addition, Richard Bartleson, a researcher at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, said earlier this year that he fears a repeat of what happened in the Indian River will start happening in southwest Florida because they are at stake the same dynamics.

“The biggest problem facing manatees in Southwest Florida is the 100 tons of phosphorus coming from Lake Okeechobee via the Peace and Caloosahatchee Rivers,” he said. “Along with more than 100,000 septic tanks in river catchments, they also leak nutrient-rich water into rivers.”

A coalition release pointed out that boating strikes are another major threat to Florida’s manatees. on average, more than 100 manatees killed by boaters in the state each year. This number is expected to increase as Florida’s population continues to expand.

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Florida Springs Council and the Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has proposed a rule to raise boaters’ awareness of manatees and other coastal wildlife.

Originally listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, manatees have never truly recovered. On March 30, 2017 the Fish and Wildlife Service announced its final rule downgrading the West Indian manatee from threatened to threatened, despite hundreds of manatees still dying each year from boating strikes, habitat loss and other causes.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by the VoLo Foundation, a non-profit organization with a mission to accelerate global change and impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, improving education, and improving health.

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