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Petition urges USFWS to protect Florida manatees as endangered

Calling declines in Florida's manatee population “dramatic” a coalition of groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase protections for the aquatic mammal.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Miami Waterkeeper, Save the Manatee Club and Frank S. González García filed the petition Monday. The petition urges the federal wildlife agency to reclassify the species from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

"Since the service prematurely reduced protections in 2017, the species has declined dramatically," a release from the groups about the petition said.

According to information provided by the groups, pollution-fueled algae blooms sparked an ongoing mortality event that killed more than 1,110 Florida manatees in 2021 alone -- 19 percent of the Atlantic population and 13 percent of all manatees in Florida.

The deaths continued this year, the groups said, with 726 manatees dying through October. Manatee experts predict that the high levels of malnourished and starving manatees will continue throughout the winter.

“West Indian manatees from Florida to the Caribbean are facing drastic threats from habitat loss, boat strikes, pollution, climate change and toxic algae blooms," said Ben Rankin, a student attorney at the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “The restoration of full Endangered Species Act protections is an essential first step in conserving this species everywhere it is found.”