Sunday, February 14, 2016

Now is Not the Time to Downlist the West Indian Manatee

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This action is premature, and we urge the Service to postpone reclassification until the agency can assure ongoing protections and minimization of threats to the species and its habitat.

In making its downlisting determination, the Service has relied heavily on population counts, rather than evaluating the long-term viability of the population as required by the Endangered Species Act. Higher numbers of manatees does not mean that the population has recovered adequately to ensure its survival. In Florida, hundreds of manatees can be lost to single events including cold snaps and red tide. From 2010-2015, 3,217 manatees died in Florida waters. This figure represents 53% of the highest Florida manatee population count ever recorded (6,063 in 2015). In 2013 alone, 830 manatees died as a result of unusual mortality events.

The Service has failed to account for ongoing and increasing future threats to Florida manatee survival.
In particular, the agency has failed to account for the increased danger to Florida manatees from the loss of both natural and artificial warm water refuges. Expected coal plant closures, anticipated future requirements to cease thermal discharges, reduced spring flows, and the absence of sanctuary protections at many springs leave manatees at risk of future significant population declines. The Service has not determined what level of population growth and subsequent loss are sustainable for Florida manatees although the Core Biological Model predicts future growth followed by population decline.

The Service has also not adequately addressed cumulative impacts from continued development, increased vessel use, and ongoing water quality problems that threaten the aquatic plants on which manatees depend for survival.
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