Top manatee expert: Keep 'em on the endangered species list!
I grew up in Crystal River. I saw my first manatee 55 years ago when I was 5 while I was fishing with my dad. It glided under our boat and my dad was frightened that it would tip us over. To me they were magical and on that day, I became fascinated by these gentle, lumbering creatures.
I have spent a lifetime studying the manatee -- the African manatee in Ivory Coast and the West Indian manatee of which there are two sub-species -- the Antillean manatee in Cuba and Belize and the Florida manatee here in Florida.
About 5,000 manatees are known to inhabit the waters of our state, and two areas have had the highest population growth, Crystal River on the Gulf Coast and Blue Springs on the St. Johns River. These areas were also the first to implement manatee protections.
The future health, well-being and protection of Florida manatees is going to be decided in the coming months.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been petitioned by "Save Crystal River" -- a citizens group represented by Pacific Legal Fund -- to downlist the manatee from "endangered" to "threatened," a necessary legal step toward "delisting." That is, removal of manatees from the endangered species list. The public is invited to comment by Sept. 2; advisers will then be consulted and a decision will be given in the next 12 months.
It's ironic that a small group from Crystal River, the community that benefits most from manatee-related tourism, with thousands of visitors from around the globe, has taken the lead to reduce protection.
Manatees were originally listed as endangered in 1967, based on the dire threats faced by the species. The argument is that since manatee populations are increasing, it's time to change the status. Keep reading. The Times agrees.