After being classified as an endangered species for almost 25 years, Florida manatees are making a comeback. Because of this, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to change their classification from endangered to threatened. This modification was proposed for green sea turtles as well, due to their increase in population numbers.
Although this might be seen by the general public as a somewhat good news, marine biologists and environmental activists claim otherwise. This is extremely relevant when discussing the topic of Belize and the manatees present in that region.
According to Belize activists, changing manatees from endangered to threatened will have a massive negative impact on their population numbers. This is rather disconcerting because the sea mammals’ population only faced an increase in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida, with other regions still suffering from dwindling numbers.
For instance, in Belize over the course of last year, 40 manatees have perished due to human factors. This year is even grimmer if looked at from a statistical viewpoint. Even if 2016 has only just started, 4 manatees have been found dead already. If this will not stop, death tolls will be exponentially higher in comparison to last year.
By switching to threatened, the low number of manatees will not be seen by the general public as an urgent matter anymore, leading to a decrease in charity-based funding. Some people might even come to the conclusion that disregarding their effects on the mammals’ population can become viable once again as if their number has reached a normal threshold.
True, the manatee population has suffered from a staggering increase over the past 25 years, rising by 500%, marking their number at 6,300 individuals in comparison to 1991’s 1,267. But this increase does not mean that manatees are suffering a boom in reproduction rates which in turn would urge the FWS to modify their title from endangered to threatened.
Some researchers see this move as a somewhat yo-yo effect. FWS switches an animal to threatened, their population starts dwindling once again, urging them to switch once again to endangered. The major problem approached by marine biologists is based on the idea that this modification can lead to an extinction vortex, making population numbers decrease exponentially.
Because of this, even if Florida manatees are making a comeback, Belize officials will contest FWS’ decision to downgrade manatees’ endangered title within 90 days, the period in which criticisms and concerns will be taken into account by the US FWS.