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Endangered Is Too Close to Extinction

The Florida or "West Indian" Manatee is listed as "Endangered" under the Federal Endangered Species Act, and under the Florida state laws too.

What does "endangered" mean?
FFWCC034 Endangered means that the Florida Manatee is a species that is already

"in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range (federal)"

and projected to have

"a population reduction of at least 80%...within 10 years or three generations...(state)."

Photo Credit: FWC

In all of Florida, only 3,276 manatees were counted in the highest statewide aerial count ever, back in 2001. That's right. Only 3,276. Dr. Bruce Ackerman commented that "having 3,000 manatees in a population is not that many individuals of an endangered species. It's like having your entire life savings being $3,000." That's not much to bank an entire species on.

This suggests how at risk the manatee population may be. Each year the manatee population is subject to deaths from many causes including watercraft collisions, flood gate accidents, other human causes, perinatal causes, cold stress, and other natural causes too. In 2003, there were 380 known manatee deaths. What if the birth rate does not keep pace with the number of deaths?

For an endangered species, a substantial risk to the population can come from any widespread epidemic of disease, regardless of whether it be caused by nature or man. For manatees, two examples of this include Red Tide outbreaks, (which caused 149 manatee deaths in 1996, and 98 out of 380 manatee deaths in 2003), or widespread Cold Stress from very cold weather.

Florida officials have been asked by some groups to consider if manatees should be reclassified as "threatened" instead of endangered. Florida officials have not reached a decision on that, but even if the classification were changed to threatened, the Florida manatee species is still considered endangered under the Federal law.

How Do We Best Protect the Endangered Manatee?:
The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to conserve and protect these species, and to find ways to conserve the the ecosystems and habitats they depend on.

With so few left, there is very little room for error, so we must be as effective as possible in our efforts to protect them. Mote Marine Laboratory biologist Jessica Koelsch suggests that "to protect them, we have to understand their behavior." Getting knowledge of what they eat when, which waters they prefer and where they mate can help pinpoint where aquatic preserves might best be set up for the animals, says Doug Stewart of National Wildlife Federation.

This is exactly the kind of thinking that Sirenia Project scientists have been following in their study of proposed water management changes in the Ten Thousand Islands (TTI) area of the Everglades. Before any changes are made, they're studying how the manatees use this habitat area, so they will know if changes could adversely impact the manatee's habitat, or put the manatee at risk.

What Can You Do?
We can all take an active role in trying to save the Manatees no matter if we're students, or teachers or parents. What can you do to help Manatees, even if you don't live in Florida? And how can a piece of paper help save the Manatee? Find out the answers to these questions and more:

Journaling Questions:
  • Do you think that protecting endangered species is worthwhile? Why or why not? To what extent? Think about what it would mean if manatees became extinct? What impact would this have on the ecosystem? On the Food Chain/Habitiat? On our role in the World?

  • Do you know any people, groups, or institutions that are helping to protect endangered species today? How? Do you know any people, groups or institutions that are not helping protect endangered species?
  • How do you think endangered species protection efforts are funded?
  • Have you ever tried to help in this effort? Why or why not?
  • What, if anything, have you done to help protect the endangered species?

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