Manatees are the graceful ‘sea cows’ that can be found in the South East of the USA.
Their numbers had been in steady decline and the future looked bleak.
The manatee population dropped to just a few hundred in the 1970s, but recent reports have set numbers above 6,600. This allows the animal’s status to be officially reclassified from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’.
The announcement was made last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is, however, only a temporary reprieve, as opposed to a complete cause for celebration. A species which is listed as ‘threatened’ is still vulnerable and could easily become extinct in the near future.
The West Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus, has been the focus of many protective measures which have been brought into place, particularly along the Florida Quays, where the animal lives in dense numbers. Speed restrictions on boats (a leading cause of injury and death to the manatee) and the redesign of locks and levees.
“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 of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s acting director in a statement.
Conservationists are less than joyful, however, with many believing that the reclassification of the animal’s status will lead to a softening of rules and regulations related to their habitat and welfare.
Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club says in a statement. “We believe this is a devastating blow to manatees. A federal reclassification at this time will seriously undermine the chances of securing the manatee’s long-term survival…. With the new federal administration [threatening] to cut 75% of regulations, including those that protect our wildlife and air and water quality, the move to downlist manatees can only be seen as a political one.”
Activists and conservationists alike have pledged even greater focus and support to ensure that the manatee numbers continue to rise.