Final Project Nicole Griffin
March 12, 2016
Florida is known for its unique environment and its wide variety of animals that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. One of these animals is the manatee. Manatees are large, docile marine mammals that call the warm, shallow waters of Florida home. Often referred to as a “sea cow”, they are herbivores that graze on sea grass that grows on the bottoms of oceans and rivers. They need warm water to survive and sometimes migrate up or down the coastline if the temperature dips below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. There are several different kinds of manatees, but the species that is native to the American Southeast is the West Indian Manatee. When Christopher Columbus ventured to the new world, manatees were everywhere. Having never seen them before, he assumed they were sires. However as time passed, the manatees became hard to find in Florida waterways, as demonstrated by this timeline.
The West Indian Manatee has been on the endangered species list for over half a century. However, U.S Fish and Wildlife Services has now suggested that the mammals be takes off the list. They cited significant improvements in population and habitat conditions as the reason for doing so. While environmental conditions might have improved for the manatee, this map that plots manatee deaths in 2014 over a heat map of the most populated areas of the state, shows that they are still threatened by humans. If the manatees are downgraded from the “endangered” to the “threatened” list, then it would be at the discretion of Florida law makers whether or not they wanted to remove “slow boating” mandates from areas where manatees are known to congregate.
While it is true that the manatee population has grown substantially over past years, they are still dying at alarming rates. The cause of death of many of these creatures is the propeller of a boat. As you can see from this chart, boating accidents have not increased much in the past 5 years, despite increased fines for harming a manatee. Many manatees are found washed up on the shore with deep blade marks in their backs.
While many groups, such as the Save Crystal River organization, are against moving manatees off the endangered species list, it won’t be a possibility until 2017. For now, the federal government is coming up with protections to keep the manatee population from declining once it is taken off the list next year.