With Florida seeing a record number of manatee deaths this year, two U.S. House members from Florida on Monday said they have introduced legislation that would designate the sea cows as an “endangered” species.
The proposal by Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan and Democratic Rep. Darren Soto would upgrade the status of manatees under the Endangered Species Act from “threatened,” offering more protections.
“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” Buchanan said in a prepared statement. “This year’s record-breaking number of manatee deaths is staggering and extremely concerning, which is why upgrading their ESA (Endangered Species Act) status is absolutely critical. We must do everything we can to protect these gentle giants and Florida’s official marine mammal.”
Citing Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission statistics, a news release about the legislation said 890 manatees died during the first seven months of 2021, breaking the annual record of 830 manatee deaths in 2013.
Many of this year’s deaths have occurred in areas of the East Coast where water quality problems have caused a significant loss of seagrass, a key source of food for manatees.
The animals were reclassified in 2017 as no longer being endangered.