US agency says manatees no longer endangered; Belize disagrees

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

Authorities in the United States are proposing that the “endangered” status of the West Indian Manatee, be downgraded to “threatened”; however, Belizean conservationists strongly disagree.

The United States’ Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed the downgrade last week, due to rebounding manatee populations in Florida and Puerto Rico.
“Given its review of the best scientific and commercial information available, including analyses of threats and populations, the Service proposes that the West Indian manatee no longer fall within the ESA’s (Endangered Species Act) definition of endangered and should be reclassified as threatened,” the FWS said.

The FWS assured that the proposal to downlist the manatee to threatened will not affect federal protections currently afforded by the ESA, and the Service will remain committed to conservation actions to fully recover manatee populations.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) defines an endangered species as one currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and a threatened species as one that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.
Belizean conservationists have voiced their concerns that the proposal could have serious negative consequences regarding the current perceived status of the manatees in Belize.
Manatee researcher, Jamal Galves, explained that the declaration of manatee populations stabilizing was too general, not considering that the species of manatee found in Belize is a different type than the ones referred to as having a rebounded population.

Galves said the statement could not be further from the truth in the Belizean context, between increasing manatee deaths per year and little biological evidence to support that the species is reproducing fast enough to avoid extinction within the next century.
“We’re not ok! We’re not even close to having a stable population. We fear that removing the ‘endangered’ status may be what ironically drives our manatee population to extinction,” Galvez said.

Galves also said the statement would make donors less likely to support manatee conservation efforts, because the down-listing makes the situation less urgent. Last year 40 manatees died in Belize, the majority of which were due to human interaction. Three have already died in 2016.
According to the procedure, interested parties have 90 days from January 8th to forward comments or concerns with the proposed downgrade. Galves confirmed that Belize will send an official correspondence within the time limit.

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