Still much work to be done to protect manatees

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Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded the West Indian manatee’s Endangered Species Act status from endangered to threatened.

Although Save the Manatee Club believes that the species is endangered throughout a significant portion of its range, we are most concerned that downlisting will give the public and policymakers the impression that their work to protect the manatee is complete. Such an attitude risks undoing decades of effort and hard-won gains to conserve Florida’s treasured marine mammal and leaves us far from what is still needed to ensure the species’ recovery and long-term survival.

Recent years have seen record manatee deaths from new and increasing threats, including extreme cold events, red tide outbreaks, and a still-unexplained unusual mortality event on the Indian River Lagoon. Last year, an unprecedented 104 manatees died from impacts with watercraft, and 2017 is closing in on yet another manatee watercraft mortality and injury record.

In order to sustain the progress made toward recovering the manatee, we must maintain and build upon robust protections for the animals and their habitat. It is particularly imperative to protect natural warm water refuges and aggregation sites. As artificial industrial sources of warm water are likely to be removed in the future, manatees will need restored and/or enhanced access to their historic winter habitat in Florida’s springs. Throughout the state, groundwater pumping has resulted in reduced spring flows and water levels. Citizens can echo Save the Manatee Club in advocating for strong springs protections, and urging policymakers to consider both water quality and quantity (flow) when allocating water consumption and pollution discharge permits.

It will also continue to be essential to support slow-speed restrictions in important manatee areas. We hope that boaters and all Florida citizens will continue to support reasonable speed zone protections. Boaters can also wear polarized glasses and have a designated spotter in manatee areas to minimize the risk of collisions. Save the Manatee Club has additional resources for boaters available at https://savethemanatee.org/boatertips.

At the national level, manatee supporters can ask their representatives to champion strong environmental and endangered species protections. The Endangered Species Act is highly effective at recovering the nation’s species and remains overwhelmingly popular among citizens, regardless of their political affiliation. The Marine Mammal Protection Act likewise receives bipartisan support from voters, though both currently face an uphill battle in Congress.

Regardless of the manatee’s listing status, there is considerable work yet to be done to make sure the species survives to delight future generations.

Slow speed zones and habitat conservation are paramount to the species’ long-term success, and we ask all Floridians to join us in supporting key springs protections and observing manatee zones while recreating on the water.

Anne Harvey Holbrook, JD, MS

Staff Attorney, Save the Manatee Club


Maitland, FL (407) 539-0990

Anne Harvey Holbrook is the staff attorney for Save the Manatee Club, where her work focuses on water quality and quantity and endangered species issues.  

Anne also serves as Conservation Chair for the Big Bend Sierra Club. She has her JD from Georgetown Law, and her Masters in Aquatic Environmental Science from Florida State University.