Keep the Manatees Safe

Just because they've grown in numbers doesn't mean we ought to relax in protecting them.

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There are some subspecies of Homo sapiens who will seemingly stop at nothing to obliterate their fellow mammals. An exaggerated statement? Perhaps. But the statement makes more sense when one considers the plight of the poor Florida manatee.

Despite a huge influx of Homo sapiens into the state of Florida during the past few decades, these gentle, giant mammals have managed to increase their numbers. Normally, more people means destruction of animal habitat and a decrease in animal population. But with the help of another very dedicated subspecies of Homo sapiens, environmentalists, manatees have managed a small increase in their number.

Those who treasure the natural environment see this as a cause for celebration. Those who milk the natural environment for its lucre see it as a lobbying opportunity. Boating industry and developers' representatives are lobbying the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to downgrade the manatee from "endangered" to "threatened" so they can sell more high-powered boats to careen through manatee habitat and carve up more protected habitat for development. Boat propellers cause a high percentage of manatee deaths.

Florida's Republican Gov. Charlie Crist weighed in and forced the commission to postpone a vote on the downgrade earlier this year. The vote now takes place on December 5. Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee, points out:

On Sept. 12, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) officially declared the Florida manatee endangered using exactly the same criteria state officials are attempting to use to justify downgrading the manatee's status from Endangered to Threatened. After a scientific status review at the international level, the Florida manatee was declared Endangered on the Red List, which is recognized as the most reliable evaluation of the world's species.

Let's hope that the governor continues his heroic pressure on this issue. He met recently with singer Jimmy Buffett, who publicly thanked him for his protection of the so-called sea cows. A bullish approach by Crist will be necessary, however, to fight off Florida's greedy development interests.