Florida Congressmen Champion the Manatee Protection Act

Two congressmen from the Sunshine State have introduced a proposal offering manatees the highest level of federal protection.

At the end of last week, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., introduced a proposal to move West Indian manatees from threatened to endangered status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“Upgrading their designation under the ESA will not only require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to refocus their attention on manatee population rehabilitation, but also allow for increased federal resources including more funding and personnel,” Buchanan’s office noted.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., is co-sponsoring Buchanan’s “Manatee Protection Act.”

The congressmen weighed in on the proposal on Monday.

“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” said Buchanan. “This year’s record-breaking number of manatee deaths is staggering and extremely concerning, which is why upgrading their ESA status is absolutely critical. We must do everything we can to protect these gentle giants and Florida’s official marine mammal.”

“2021 was the deadliest year for the West Indian manatee in our home state of Florida. These mass deaths should alarm us all and incite us to take immediate action to protect these precious mammals. By adding the West Indian manatee to the ESA’s endangered list, we are ensuring that necessary steps are taken to prevent any more unnecessary deaths,” Soto said.

“According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 890 manatees have died in just the first seven months of this year. That number has already surpassed the previous record of 830 deaths in all of 2013. The most recent FWS data estimates that there are only around 6,500 West Indian manatees in the southeastern United States,” Buchanan’s office noted. “Most experts attribute the soaring manatee death count to a significant loss of seagrass along the Atlantic coast, which is causing many manatees to starve to death, as well as a worsening bout of red tide in the Gulf. They also face continued threats from habitat loss and watercraft collisions.”

Animal Wellness Action and the Save the Manatees Club are backing the proposal which was sent to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. Senate.

Last month, Congress passed an amendment from Buchanan sending $2 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “to examine the record number of manatee deaths in Florida so far this year and report to Congress on ways to help protect the species.”

Last year, the Humane Society of the United States named Buchanan as its “Legislator of the Year.” Buchanan won the honor for his record in 2015, making him the first member of the House to win the award twice.

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com

KEVIN DERBY
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