|teleSUR | Mar 31, 2017|
|Snorkelers interact with a Florida manatee inside of the Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida January 15, 2015. | Photo: Reuters|
Manatees were taken off the U.S. Interior Department's list of endangered species on Thursday and reclassified as "threatened," a move condemned by conservationists who say it weakens protections for the giant marine mammal, also known as a sea cow.
The relisting recognizes a population rebound by the West Indian manatee, a native of the Florida coastline whose range extends from the southeastern United States through the Caribbean basin. Its numbers have soared to more than 6,600 in Florida alone from a few hundred in the 1970s, the Interior Department said.
But Frank Jackalone, director of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, criticized the decision, saying that local and state authorities likely will ease boating rules designed to protect manatees.
"Florida boaters are going to take this as a signal that they can increase their speed in manatee zones," he said by telephone. Florida state numbers show 520 manatees deaths last year, 104 of them from watercraft.
Jackalone said that the Interior Department decision also failed to address the impact of the closing of aging Florida power plants whose warm water outflows manatees depend on during cold winter months.
Under the "threatened" classification, manatees are considered likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. An "endangered" listing means that a species is in danger of extinction.