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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Manatees may lose state protection

By Editorial Board

Pop quiz: What is Florida's official marine mammal?

The answer is the West Indian Manatee, sometimes called the Florida Manatee. These creatures swim all around our fair state. If you went boating this Labor Day weekend, you may have seen some in the rivers or the Intercoastal Waterway. But did you know that the species may soon be subject to less protection from the state?

In April, the species was recommended to be reclassified as "threatened" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For now, they are still endangered as they have been for about 35 years as per the Endangered Species Act. But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to cut 90 jobs from its law enforcement division. This would mean fewer wildlife officers patrolling the coastal areas where speeding boats are most likely to endanger manatees.

Just like highway patrolmen preach to us that "Speed Kills" as they issue that ,200 citation, wildlife officers are out looking for your speeding motor boat, with propellers that can severely injure or kill manatees - who move about as fast as Archer Road traffic at 5 p.m.

Florida has strict laws about no-wake zones in designated manatee areas. Despite the monitoring by the wildlife officers, 80 manatees were killed by boaters in 2005 and another 86 in 2006. That year marked the second-highest total since record-keeping began about 40 years ago.

Does this sound a little paradoxical? Cutting enforcement right at the point when manatees have rebounded from critical endangerment doesn't sound like the best idea. Florida only has about 3,300 manatees, and less strict law enforcement means more manatees will suffer, perhaps sending the species back to the top of the endangered species list before it even comes off of it.

We know budgets are being cut around the state, but cutting 90 jobs from a commission that is already considered severely understaffed can't be the answer. The manatees can't protect themselves, so we need to continue looking out for them.

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