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WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) – Holy (sea) cow! Manatees are making a comeback. On the heels of Manatee Appreciation Day, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the downlisting of the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened.
Earlier this year, it was announced that a Florida manatee census topped 6,000 for the third year in a row compared to the first five years of the survey when fewer than 2,000 manatees were spotted.
The notable increases in manatee populations and improvements in habitat allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to change the species’ status under the Endangered Species Act.
Diverse conversation efforts and collaborations by Florida and other manatee states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Caribbean nations, public and private organizations and citizens, are credited with the population growth.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has worked hand in hand with state and local governments, businesses, industry, and countless stakeholders over many years to protect and restore a mammal that is cherished by people around the world,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Without this type of collaboration and the commitment of state and local partners, this downlisting would not have been possible.”
The downlisting means that the manatee is no longer considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future without continued protections.
Although the downlisting represents a milestone for the manatee, the agency stressed important challenges still remain to ensure the species’ long-term future. Due to this, FWS biologists emphasized that the downlisting will not diminish any existing federal protections that will continue to play a vital role in the recovery of the species. The manatee will also continue to be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.