It appears that Florida manatees and green sea turtles have been saved from extinction, since their population is finally experiencing an upward trend following a dramatic decline.
West Indian manatees (sometimes referred to as “sea cows”) are considered an “indicator species” given the fact that their population trends are believed to be indicative of the health of the entire local ecosystem.
The aquatic species scientifically known as Trichechus manatus is actually is divided into 2 subspecies, the Antillean manatee and the Florida manatee, the latter having been declared the official marine mammal associated with the Sunshine State back in 1975.
Even so, despite being among Florida’s symbols, the manatee has remained seriously imperiled, being protected thanks to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and the 1978 Sanctuary Act.
Now, it seems the herbivorous species, whose sightings used to be wrongly believed to be mermaid apparitions in the past, is finally on the heels of recovery.
Following a thorough analysis conducted across a period of 12 months, representatives of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have announced on January 7 that the marine mammal’s status will be downgraded, being listed as “threatened” instead of “endangered”.
The same announcement was also made concerning Florida’s green sea turtles, whose population has also been growing in recent years, the number of nests climbing from 198 in 2001, to 14,152 in 2015.
When a species is considered “endangered”, this means that it is deeply susceptible to going extinct in the immediate future, across its entire habitat or across extensive areas.
In contrast, being classified as “threatened” means that the species has a high probability of being endangered at some point in the future.
The reason why West Indian manatees no longer raise significant concerns among environmentalists is because their numbers have been escalating, and conservation measures appear to have been successful.
While the Florida manatee population had been estimated at a mere 1,267 animals back in 1991, now it has climbed to over 6,300, the equivalent of a 500% increment.
As a result, the total number of West Indian manatees across the globe has reached approximately 13,000 individuals, the upward trend being treated as a gladdening sign by wildlife specialists.
According to Michael Bean, counselor of the assistant secretary for the Department of Fish, Wildlife ant Parks, this resurgence can be attributed to the fact that the species is now facing fewer threats than before.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, working in conjunction with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service have set up approximately 50 manatees sanctuaries, these protection zones functioning as safe havens against boat collisions (the most significant mortality factor associated with human activities), fishing gear accidents, habitat loss etc.
Moreover, Coast Guard patrols have ensured that such areas are actually respected by anglers and boaters, with trespassing attempts being promptly deterred.
Now that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has established that Florida manatees and green sea turtles aren’t as imperiled as before, the proposal to alter their status on the Endangered Species list has been made official on January 8, when it appeared in the Federal Register.
Unless contested in the following 90 days, the decision will be enforced starting from April 7. Even so, as wildlife specialists insist, this doesn’t mean that conservation efforts will suddenly be halted from that point onward.
In fact, such measures will be just as strict and extensive as before, in order to ensure that these two species remain out of harm’s way in the following decades as well.
On the other hand, critics of this initiative, such as Llewellyn Ehrhart, vertebrate zoologist at Central Florida University, warn that downgrading the status of the Florida manatees and of the green sea turtles will cause the public to be less preoccupied with ensuring the survival of these animals, and less willing to fund charities supporting such conservation projects.
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