TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – United States representatives Vern Buchanan (R-13th District) and Darren Soto (D-9th District) introduced legislation to upgrade the status of the West Indian manatee’s status of endangerment.
The Manatee Protection Act, H.R. 4946, would officially upgrade the West Indian manatee from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.
The manatee’s status was changed from “endangered” in 2017.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a total of 890 manatees have died so far this year, a record in Florida.
“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” said 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,” a press release on the representative’s website says.
According to the same press release, “In 2016, Buchanan formally objected to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgrading the manatee’s ESA designation from endangered to threatened, noting that the FWS may have been using outdated data to support the reduction in protection.”
“The Manatee Protection Act has received strong support from leading animal welfare groups including Animal Wellness Action and the Save the Manatees Club,” the release read.
Rep. Buchanan first called on FWC to change the manatee’s status in June.
Aquatic Biologist and Executive Director for Save the Manatee Club Patrick Rose says the bill would fix what was broken.
“They went forward with an incomplete and unbiologically justified downsizing,” Rose said. “After they were downsized, they did less for the manatees, less staffing, funding, and we’re seeing the consequences of what we warned them about.”
Rose says hundreds of manatees have died from starvation in the last several months.
“We have to fix what’s broken so that’s going to mean, getting to what’s behind the loss of seagrass which is too much nutrient from human waste,” Rose said.