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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — For years, manatees have been considered endangered. We’ve seen them killed by boaters and die from sickness and cold. But now, the beloved Florida sea cow could have a new status.

“Today, we are announcing a proposal to reclassify the manatee from endangered status to a threatened status,” said Mike Oetker from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wildlife officials believe the manatee is no longer in danger of extinction. “If you will,” said Jim Valade from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “it’s like taking manatees out of intensive care and putting them in a regular care facility.”

Over the past 25 years, the Florida manatee population has increased 500 percent. In 1991, there were an estimated 1,267 manatees. Now wildlife officials believe 6,300 are swimming around our waterways.

But not everyone agrees. “I think it’s premature,” says Patrick Rose from Save the Manatee Club.

He thinks taking away the endangered status could mean people and governments will let their guards down. He says over the past few years more than 2,000 manatees have died.

“The greatest single risk over the long-term is watercraft injuries,” said Rose. “Virtually every manatee has been struck by a boat, bears the scars from it.”

The manatee, Phoenix, at the Miami Seaquarium bares the permanent injury of a boat propeller.

Wildlife officials tell us changing the status will not change protections — like those manatee zones in inland waters.

“Reclassifying the manatee as threatened will not affect existing protections, speed restrictions in protected areas, and prohibitions on harassment,” said Oetker.

What happens now is there will be a 90-day period where the public can give their input. After that, wildlife officials will look at all that information and decide whether or not to take the manatee off the endangered species list.

Ted Scouten

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