Endangered Is Too Close to Extinction
The Florida or "West Indian" Manatee is listed as "Endangered" under the Federal Endangered Species Act, and under the Florida state laws too.
In all of Florida, only 3,276 manatees were counted in the highest statewide aerial count ever, back in 2001. That's right. Only 3,276. Dr. Bruce Ackerman commented that "having 3,000 manatees in a population is not that many individuals of an endangered species. It's like having your entire life savings being $3,000." That's not much to bank an entire species on.
This suggests how at risk the manatee population may be. Each year the manatee population is subject to deaths from many causes including watercraft collisions, flood gate accidents, other human causes, perinatal causes, cold stress, and other natural causes too. In 2003, there were 380 known manatee deaths. What if the birth rate does not keep pace with the number of deaths?
For an endangered species, a substantial risk to the population can come from any widespread epidemic of disease, regardless of whether it be caused by nature or man. For manatees, two examples of this include Red Tide outbreaks, (which caused 149 manatee deaths in 1996, and 98 out of 380 manatee deaths in 2003), or widespread Cold Stress from very cold weather.
officials have been asked by some groups to consider if manatees should
be reclassified as "threatened" instead of endangered. Florida
officials have not reached a decision on that, but even if the classification
were changed to threatened, the Florida manatee species is still considered
endangered under the Federal law.
With so few left, there is very little room for error, so we must be as effective as possible in our efforts to protect them. Mote Marine Laboratory biologist Jessica Koelsch suggests that "to protect them, we have to understand their behavior." Getting knowledge of what they eat when, which waters they prefer and where they mate can help pinpoint where aquatic preserves might best be set up for the animals, says Doug Stewart of National Wildlife Federation.
This is exactly the kind of thinking that Sirenia Project scientists have been following in their study of proposed water management changes in the Ten Thousand Islands (TTI) area of the Everglades. Before any changes are made, they're studying how the manatees use this habitat area, so they will know if changes could adversely impact the manatee's habitat, or put the manatee at risk.
Can You Do?
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