FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Vicki M. Boatwright or April 5, 1995 Diana M. Hawkins FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE EXTENDS PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD ON FLORIDA MANATEE RECOVERY PLAN SECOND REVISION DRAFT
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a second revision of the Florida manatee recovery plan and has extended the public comment period for the technical/agency draft of the revision until June 5, 1995. The Service is soliciting comments from interested parties who did not have the opportunity to review and comment on the draft plan during the December 27, 1994, through February 27, 1995, comment period.
A primary goal of the Service's endangered species program is to restore endangered or threatened animals and plants to the point where they are again secure, self-sustaining members of their ecosystems. To help guide the recovery effort, the Service is preparing recovery plans for most of the listed species native to the United States. Recovery plans describe those actions necessary to conserve the species, establish criteria for downlisting or delisting species, and estimate the time required and cost involved in implementing the recovery measures needed.
The Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, was originally listed on March 11, 1967, under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. The Service developed an initial recovery plan for manatees in 1980. To reflect new information and planning needs for manatees in Florida, the Service revised the original plan in 1989. In view of progress since 1989 and planning needs beyond 1994, the Service is once again updating and revising the plan.
The proposed revision includes recommendations to Federal, State and local agencies to help them better identify and minimize causes of death and injury to manatees. It will also assist them to better protect and oversee essential manatee habitat and monitor the population status of this endangered species. The plan also promotes the coordination of recovery activities and monitoring and evaluating the progress of recovery efforts.
The Florida manatee is found primarily in coastal areas of Florida and southeast Georgia, although individuals range seasonally westward into Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana on the Gulf coast and north through the Carolinas into Virginia and Chesapeake Bay on the east coast.
Manatees are large, aquatic herbivores that feed opportunistically on a variety of submerged, floating, and emergent vegetation in marine and fresh water habitats. Shallow grass beds with ready access to deep channels are preferred feeding areas. Manatees frequent canals, creeks, bays and lagoons, particularly near the mouths of coastal rivers and sloughs, for feeding, resting, cavorting, mating, and calving.
When ambient water temperatures drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit in autumn and winter, manatees aggregate at natural or artificial warm water refuges or move to southern Florida. Most artificial refuges are created by warm water outfalls at power plants or paper mills. In winter, 50 or more animals may congregate at these sites in central and southern Florida, while smaller groups of 15 or less may be found at east coast locations in northern Florida and southern Georgia. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Citrus County is the northernmost refuge used regularly by manatees on the west coast. Most manatees habitually use the same warm refuges each year.
During the summer, manatees are found almost anywhere in Florida where water depths are greater than 3 feet. Manatees normally appear alone or in pairs, although interacting groups of 5 to 10 animals are not unusual.
Efforts have been made to develop a reliable estimate of manatee abundance in Florida. When conditions are favorable, statewide aerial counts of manatees at significant aggregation sites are conducted following the arrival of winter cold weather fronts. The highest single-day count of manatees spotted during a statewide aerial survey was 1,856 animals in January 1992.
The long-term survival of manatees in Florida is uncertain. The annual loss of this species, which averaged more than 170 animals between 1988 and 1992, has more than doubled since the late 1970s. Due to both current population size estimates and the species relatively low reproductive rates (manatees produce only a single calf every 2.5 - 5 years per mature female), present mortality rates may exceed the population's ability to produce young. The major threats to Florida manatees are collisions with watercraft, which account for about 25 percent of the known manatee deaths in Florida annually, and destruction and degradation of habitat caused by wide-spread development throughout much of the species' Florida range.
Persons wishing to review the draft recovery plan may obtain a copy by contacting the Field Supervisor, Jacksonville Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6620 Southpoint Drive, S. Suite 310, Jacksonville, Florida 32216 (telephone: 904-232-2580). Written comments and materials regarding the plan should be addressed to David J. Wesley, Field Supervisor, at the above Jacksonville, Florida address. Comments on the draft recovery plan revision must be received on or before June 5, 1995, to receive consideration by the Service.
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