Long Term Prospects for Manatee Recovery Look Grim, According To New Data Released By Federal Government

Environmental Coalition Urges Protections
Be Strengthened Accordingly

For further information, contact:

Patti Thompson
Director of Science and Conservation,
Save the Manatee Club (SMC)
Phone: (407) 539-0990
E-mail: pthompson@savethemanatee.org

Eric Glitzenstein
Meyer & Glitzenstein
Phone: (202) 588-5206
E-mail: Eric@meyerglitz.com

Mike Senatore
Defenders of Wildlife
Phone: (202) 682-9400
E-mail: MSenatore@defenders.org

Laurie MacDonald
Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Office
Phone: (727) 823-3888
E-mail: lmacdonald@defenders.org

For Immediate Release: April 29, 2003

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) recently released a manatee population model that was developed by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for use in the Service’s proposed Incidental Take rulemaking process to protect manatees under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. The scientific model makes clear that, unless drastic steps are taken to reduce human-induced mortality and injury, the long-term fate of the manatee is far more bleak than the Service has acknowledged. The model is included as an appendix to the Service’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed rules and is titled, “A Model for Assessing Incidental Take of Manatees Due to Watercraft-related Activities.” The rulemaking is part of a lawsuit settlement agreement with Save the Manatee Club and a coalition of 17 other environmental and animal welfare organizations.

The model predicts an extremely grave situation confronting the manatee in both the Southwest and Atlantic regions where the vast majority of manatees are found. It states, “In the absence of any new management action, that is, if boat mortality rates continue to increase at the rates observed since 1992, the situation in the Atlantic and Southwest regions is dire, with no chance of meeting recovery criteria within 100 years.”

“This is very bad news for manatees and validates our long-held position that watercraft-related mortality remains too high and must be reduced," stated Patti Thompson, Director of Science and Conservation for Save the Manatee Club. "The adoption of effective boat speed zones with proper signage, increased law enforcement, and county-wide manatee protection plans is essential to achieve this goal," she said.

Although some members of the marine industries and boating community continue to attribute the record high manatee mortality from boat collisions in recent years to growth in the manatee population, the model completely discredits this claim.

According to this newest scientific model, in the Atlantic and Southwest regions the rate of increase in watercraft-related mortality from 1990 to 1999 far outstripped the estimated growth rate of those populations. In fact, in Southwest Florida the estimated historical growth rate, according to the model, was negative. In other words, the population declined in that region. It is important to note that the model was completed before more than 60 manatees apparently died from an outbreak of red tide in recent weeks.

Furthermore, the model only involves one form of “take” – manatees killed as a consequence of boating and other human causes. It does not address other forms of sub-lethal “take,” including boat-related injuries, harassment, and habitat destruction that may also have grave impacts on the manatee’s prospects for survival and recovery. Additionally, a recent review of the future risks of the manatee population by scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Florida Marine Research Institute determined that we could lose as much as half of the existing manatee population over the next 45 years.

“When those impacts are considered along with the dire scenarios spelled out in the USGS model, it becomes even more apparent that manatee takes throughout Florida vastly exceed the negligible impact threshold and will continue to do so in the absence of a significant increase in necessary protection measures,” said Eric Glitzenstein of Meyer and Glitzenstein, a public interest law firm representing the manatee coalition. Glitzenstein has informed the Service that the manatee coalition is willing to negotiate an extension of the agency’s court-ordered rulemaking deadline of May 5th in light of the new scientific data, which was discussed for the first time in the final version of the Service’s Environmental Impact Statement.

“This study sheds a great deal of light on that ever-popular question about how the manatee population is doing, and it’s much worse than many skeptics thought. The manatee’s dismal prospects for the future completely justify the new boat speed zones proposed by the Service in three critical areas of the state, including the Caloosahatchee River in Lee County. Put simply, if we don’t adopt more protective regulations in areas where manatees are being killed by boats, this species will not be recovered in our lifetime or even the lifetime of our grandchildren,” said Laurie MacDonald, Florida Director, Defenders of Wildlife.

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