Manatees Just Lost Their Status as Endangered Species

Manatees have just been downlisted from endangered to threatened; and while some are celebrating their recovery, many advocates are fearing that the move puts their future survival in jeopardy.

With only a few hundred left in existence, Florida manatees were hovering on the brink of extinction when they were first protected under the precursor to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1967.

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimates that there are now around 6,620 manatees in Florida waters, which marks the third year in row that numbers above 6,000 have been counted.

Although their numbers have grown over the past few decades, their advocates have been pushing to ensure they continue to receive the highest level of protection possible under the ESA. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to make their survival a priority. In 2012, the anti-environmental law firm Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned to have the West Indian Manatee and its subspecies, Florida and Antillean manatees, downgraded from endangered to threatened under the ESA.

Despite ongoing problems and widespread support from scientists and the public for keeping them listed as endangered, earlier this year the FWS announced it would be moving to make the change and has just announced that it’s been made official, but the move isn’t sitting well with those who want to see them thrive.

“We believe this is a devastating blow to manatees,” said Patrick Rose, Executive Director for Save the Manatee Club (SMC).

The agency is calling the downlisting a milestone in their recovery, and is attributing the change to increases in manatee populations and improvements in their habitat, adding that it won’t diminish any existing federal protections, but it did at least acknowledge that challenges still remain to ensure their long-term survival.

Since the FWS first recommended downgrading them in 2007, they’ve been plagued with a record number of deaths, and their advocates argue they still face too many threats ranging from pollution, plastic, entanglement, disease and habitat loss to collisions with boats – 2016 was the deadliest year for them to date.

Florida ManateeManatee with watercraft injury. Credit: David Schrichte/Save the Manatee Club

They’re also threatened by environmental issues including red tide, algal blooms and cold weather.

A manatee suffers from cold stress at Blue Spring. Photo by Save the Manatee ClubManatee suffers from cold stress at Blue Spring. Credit: Save the Manatee Club

The manatee’s reliance on warm water and the potential loss of man-made sources of heat, which they’ve come to rely on, also raises serious concerns. According to the FWS, nearly two-thirds of the manatee population winters at industrial warm-water sites, which are now made up almost entirely of power plants.

Manatees at the TECO Powerplant by David Schrichte (1)Manatees gather at TECO Power plant. Credit: David Schrichte /Save the Manatee Club

Then there’s also the issue of people loving them to the point of unacceptable harassment.

“FWS decided to prematurely downlist manatees without a proven viable plan for reducing record-high watercraft-related manatee deaths and without establishing a long-term plan for the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat on which more than 60% of the Florida manatee population depends. A federal reclassification at this time will seriously undermine the chances of securing the manatee’s long- term survival. With the new federal administration threating 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,” added Rose.

Hopefully continued public awareness about the manatee’s plight and pressure to ensure they’re not further threatened by human actions will ensure they continue to receive some level of meaningful protection.

For more on how to help Florida manatees, check out Save the Manatee Club.

Photo credit: David Schrichte /Save the Manatee Club


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Kathleen England
Kathleen E7 months ago

Should NOT be downlisted!!

Linda W
Linda W7 months ago

They really need to be protected. I hope that the petition works.

David C
David C7 months ago

still not good

Janet B
Janet B7 months ago


Lindsay K
Lindsay K7 months ago

Let's hope their increasing numbers continue! Thanks for sharing.

Camilla Vaga
Camilla V7 months ago


Carl R
Carl R7 months ago


Veronica D
Veronica D7 months ago

Thank you so very much.

Veronica D
Veronica D7 months ago

Thank you so very much.