Florida Commission Upgrades Manatee Status

Published February 1, 2007

In response to successful efforts in recent years to protect and expand the state’s manatee population, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on November 10 released a draft management plan overseeing the reclassification of manatees from endangered to merely threatened.

New Protections, Tougher Enforcement

The draft management plan is designed to ensure manatees do not revert to endangered status again in the state.

Protections required under the plan include more boat-speed limitation zones, tougher enforcement of existing speed zones, more comprehensive tracking of manatee populations, and retrofitting water management gates that have harmed manatees in the past.

Also required in the plan are efforts to protect water levels in warm natural springs during winter, and working with electrical utilities that are considering shutting down aging power plants that provide warm-water discharges during winter months.

Population Increasing

Aerial reconnaissance identified more than 3,100 manatees in Florida waters in February 2006, up from only 1,200 manatees seen in 1988.

Because aerial reconnaissance is unlikely to identify all existing manatees, the actual number of manatees in Florida is likely to be significantly higher than 3,100.

Pat Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, said, “The apparent increase in manatee numbers is misleading because the aerial surveys provide only minimum numbers.”

Rose noted more than 1,200 manatees probably existed in 1988 and more than 3,100 manatees likely exist now, so nobody really knows what the status of the manatee population is.

According to Rose, the draft management plan is flawed because, “while the management plan covers all the bases regarding what they should be working on, there is little assurance that anything concrete will be accomplished.”

Rose suggested a concrete way for the state to assist manatee populations would be to fund the construction of large solar heating panels to place over cold water areas during the winter months.

Numbers Are Growing

“The issue is not as simple and straightforward as Mr. Rose indicates,” countered Kipp Frohlich, bureau chief of the Florida Imperiled Species Management Section, in an interview for this article. “Many of the technologies advocated by some groups are untested and uncertain. Our plan allows us to determine and utilize the best technologies.”

Frohlich said while the draft management plan continues to protect manatees strongly, it cannot operate under the fiction that manatee numbers are declining or that the species faces imminent extinction.

“The best available data indicate that populations have been increasing in most sectors of the state,” Frohlich said.

“Endangered means in imminent risk of extinction,” Frohlich explained. With more than 3,000 manatees counted and numbers on the rise, “manatees do not qualify” for endangered status, Frohlich said.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Draft Manatee Management Plan, November 9, 2006, http://myfwc.com/imperiledspecies/plans/Draft-Manatee-Mgmt-Plan.pdf