Soto, Buchanan Introduce Bill to Upgrade Manatees to “Endangered”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL-09) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL-16) announced the introduced of legislation to grant manatees the highest level of federal protection available.
H.R. 4946, the Manatee Protection Act, would officially upgrade the West Indian manatee from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Upgrading their designation under the ESA will not only require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to refocus their attention on manatee population rehabilitation, but also allow for increased federal resources including more funding and personnel.
“2021 was the deadliest year for the West Indian manatee in our home state of Florida," said Congressman Soto. "These mass deaths should alarm us all and incite us to take immediate action to protect these precious mammals. By adding the West Indian manatee to the ESA’s endangered list, we are ensuring that necessary steps are taken to prevent any more unnecessary deaths.”
“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” said Congressman Buchanan. “This year’s record-breaking number of manatee deaths is staggering and extremely concerning, which is why upgrading their ESA status is absolutely critical. We must do everything we can to protect these gentle giants and Florida’s official marine mammal.
According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 890 manatees have died in just the first seven months of this year. That number has already surpassed the previous record of 830 deaths in all of 2013. The most recent FWS data estimates that there are only around 6,500 West Indian manatees in the southeastern United States.
Most experts attribute the soaring manatee death count to a significant loss of seagrass along the Atlantic coast, which is causing many manatees to starve to death, as well as a worsening bout of red tide in the Gulf. They also face continued threats from habitat loss and watercraft collisions.
The Manatee Protection Act has received strong support from leading animal welfare groups, including Animal Wellness Action and the Save the Manatees Club.
“Representative Buchanan and Soto are right in sending up a flare to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the rash of manatee deaths across coastal Florida,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “Manatee mortality has nearly tripled since last year, even though it’s just August. The United States and Florida officials must reassess their management strategies and that work must start with a designation of manatees as endangered under federal law.”
“Save the Manatee Club supports the bold decisive actions of Congressmen Vern Buchanan and Darren Soto. The tragic loss of nearly 20% of the Florida manatees’ East Coast population in just 6 months alone, confirms what a tragic mistake it was for manatees to be prematurely taken off the list of Endangered Species,” said Patrick Rose, aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. The 2017 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took place over the objections of scientists who warned the agency that such tragic consequences were likely to occur. While Save the Manatee Club recognizes that direct Congressional action is unusual, we believe the emergency nature of the problems facing imperiled manatees warrant such immediate action in order to ensure the necessary recovery actions are taken in time to reverse these devastating consequences of failing to protect the manatees’ Critical Habitat within the Indian River Lagoon and elsewhere.”