The endangered Florida manatee has made only tenuous progress toward recovery, principally due to lawsuits. And that progress has been reversed in the last few years due to toxic algae and removal of protections.
With a population hovering under 6000 animals, according to 2018 agency estimates, the manatee is in danger of spiraling toward extinction:
- A total of 804 manatee deaths were recorded, higher than any other year save the massive die-off in 2013 which saw 830 deaths;
- More than a quarter (209) were red-tide related, more than triple the toll taken in 2017 and again second only to the 277 red-tide deaths in 2013; and
- Compounding these losses was a record number of deaths from boating collisions, with 119 in 2018, compared to 111 in 2017 and 102 in 2016, both previous record totals.
What are the major factors?
- The potential biological removal level (PBR) is defined by the Marine Mammal Protection Act as the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population. The PBR for manatees is approximately 12 per year.
- The State of Florida projects a 30% to 50% decline in manatee population over the next 60 years due to the triple threat of rising boat traffic, loss of habitat (particularly warm springs) and red tides and algal blooms poisoning the manatees and their food supplies; and
- Much critical manatee habitat is unprotected from swarms of tourists in swim-with encounters, or from boaters and fishermen.
By every measure, the Florida manatee population is not recovering it is teetering on the precipice. Yet both state and federal agencies are moving toward reducing protections for the manatee including stripping the species of its endangered status.