Manatees in Florida remain an endangered species. Ironically, this is good news for manatees as a Federal Government proposal to downgrade their classification was defeated last week.
The proposal of the change in classification should serve as a wake-up call, however, as many species and ecosystems in Florida are about to be lost forever. It also shows how financial gains of some can threaten the survival of an entire species, a practice that is unacceptable.
If successful, the proposal would have downgraded the status of manatees from “endangered,” signifying the species could become extinct, to “threatened.” As endangered species, manatees enjoy the highest level of protection. The new classification would still give the species protection, but not as much, as it signifies extinction is not imminent.
Advocates of the change cited figures released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, which showed the population of manatees has recovered in the last few years and risen to an estimated number of 3,000 in Florida. This number, however, has been challenged with some critics claiming the real number could be far lower as only a number of streams are sampled in Florida and the overall population of manatees is extrapolated from these values.
The critical number is often the most debated value in the cause to protect a species as it denotes how many individuals have to be present for a stable and sustainable population to continue indefinitely. If the number of individuals were to fall below this number, there would not be enough individuals to breed for ultimate survival.
A prime example of recovery is the American buffalo, which went from a population of just 20 buffaloes in Yellowstone National Park to a population of more than 3,600.
The gain some industries could have from the re-classification of such a species are quite obvious as manatee-populated sections of Florida’s rivers, currently deemed as protected zones, would be opened to river traffic. It will also raise the commercial value of certain areas of land.
A recent extension granted by Gov. Jeb Bush gives industries in Florida more time to reduce emissions that land in the Everglades and Florida’s rivers. This is also an example of where profit is a priority over common sense and protection of the environment.
The survival of an entire species or ecosystem should not depend on whether the habitat produces dollar signs in a businessman’s eyes. If a species is dying out, it is, after all, a sign there is something wrong with the balance in an ecosystem. Environmental protection is also in our own health’s interests and future generations.