Florida's wildlife commission voted Wednesday to remove the manatee from the state's endangered species list, a move environmentalists fear could erode safeguards for the popular sea creature.
MIAMI Florida's wildlife commission voted Wednesday to remove the manatee from the state's endangered species list, a move environmentalists fear could erode safeguards for the popular sea creature.
State officials said the "downlisting" to threatened from endangered would have no impact on protections afforded the massive, lumbering marine mammal often called the sea cow.
Manatees inhabit Florida's canals and coastal waters, where they are frequently killed or injured by boats. A survey this year found about 3,100 remaining manatees.
State officials say manatees no longer qualify for endangered status, which is reserved for creatures that face extinction. Environmentalists, citing predictions the manatee population could decline by 50 percent in the next 45 years, say the criteria need to be changed.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously at a meeting in West Palm Beach to change the manatee's status. But the move will not take place until commission staffers draw up a plan to ensure the creature's continued recovery, which could take a year, an official said.
"Whatever protections we woke up with today we go to bed with tonight," commission spokesman Willie Puz said.
The manatee remains on the federal endangered species list and is protected by other federal laws.
Slow-moving and herbivorous, manatees can eat up to 15 percent of their body weight daily. On average, adult manatees are about 10 feet long and weigh about 1,000 pounds .
They are vulnerable to speeding boats because they often drift lazily at or just below the surface of the water. They are also killed by cold weather and red tide algae blooms.
Patrick Rose, an official with the Save the Manatee Club, said the downlisting could weaken protections and decrease government funding at a time when threats from boats, red tide and loss of habitat are rising.
"The world is going to think the manatees are doing a lot better when they're not," he said.