On the heels of Manatee Appreciation Day, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the downlisting of the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened. Notable increases in manatee populations and improvements in its habitat allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to change the species’ status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The downlisting comes after diverse conservation efforts and collaborations by Florida and other manatee states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Caribbean nations, public and private organizations and citizens, there have been notable increases in manatee populations and improvements in its habitat.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has worked hand in hand with state and local governments, businesses, industry, and countless stakeholders over many years to protect and restore a mammal that is cherished by people around the world,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Without this type of collaboration and the commitment of state and local partners, this downlisting would not have been possible.”
In its review, FWS considered the status of the West Indian manatee throughout its range, which includes the Florida manatee subspecies, found primarily in the southeastern United States, and the Antillean manatee, found in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Greater and Lesser Antilles (see range map). The downlisting means that the manatee is no longer considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future without continued ESA protections.
Although the downlisting represents a milestone for the manatee, the agency underscored that important challenges still remain to ensuring the species’ long-term future throughout its range. As such, FWS biologists emphasized that the downlisting will not diminish any existing federal protections that will continue to play a vital role in the recovery of the species. The manatee will also continue to be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“While there is still more work to be done to fully recover manatee populations, particularly in the Caribbean, manatee numbers are increasing and we are actively working with partners to address threats,” said Jim Kurth, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s acting director. “Today we both recognize the significant progress we have made in conserving manatee populations while reaffirming our commitment to continuing this species’ recovery and success throughout its range.”
Today’s estimated population of 6,620 Florida manatees is a dramatic turnaround from the 1970s, when just a few hundred individuals remained. Actions by the FWS, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), local communities, and industry on behalf of the manatee include:
- Retrofitting water control devices such as those found at locks and levees, resulting in significant decreases in manatee fatalities.
- Power companies working cooperatively with federal and state conservation managers to address future loss of warm water outflows where manatees winter.
- Florida counties implementing manatee protection plans and reducing boater impacts.
- Increasing manatee access to several Florida natural springs while establishing sanctuaries for the wintering manatees in those areas during winter cold snaps.
- FWS working with the U.S. Coast Guard and FWC to minimize manatee collisions with vessels during highspeed marine events and other activities.
- Fishing gear cleanup and recycling programs reducing the threat from fishing gear entanglements.
- Rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts that help save dozens of manatees annually.
Outside the United States, manatee population and abundance estimates are less certain. There are likely as many as 6,300 Antillean manatees spread over a much broader range, from the Mexican Gulf coast to northern Brazil and the Caribbean.
Download the final decision to reclassify the West Indian manatee. Background information on the Florida and Antillean subspecies is available at http://www.fws.gov/southeast/wildlife/mammal/manatee/. Also, see the Frequently Asked Questions for additional information related to the decision.