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The manatee is a critically endangered species. The manatee is a massive gray-colored animal with a tapering body and a paddle-shaped tail. The manatee's evolutionary history would be discussed in greater detail. First and foremost, the manatee belongs to the Kingdom Animalia, and its Phylum is Chordata. Furthermore, the genus is classified as Mammalia, and the Order is Sirenia. Furthermore, the species belongs to the Trichechidae family. Trichechus manatus is the scientific name for the Manatee. Sirenia is a group of four living beings that evolved from four-legged mammals millions of years ago. The manatee's nearest living relative is the Proboscidea, also known as the elephant. Manatees have been known to occupy shallow coastal waters, estuaries, and rivers of South and Central America. Manatees have occupied these habitats for millions of years. In the US, the manatees are common in Florida during the winter season, while in Alabama, Texas, Carolina, and Georgia, the manatees are common in summer. Nevertheless, there is no regular distribution of manatees in the aforementioned areas. Considerably, the West Indian manatees find warm temperatures of rivers and estuaries favorable. That is why they congregate in shallow waters. The West Indian manatee is known to migrate between fresh and saltwater sources. Furthermore, the West Indian manatee is unable to survive in temperature below 16 °C, and they seek warmth in warm rivers during the winter. According to previous research, the Florida manatee often access freshwater streams to regulate salt and water within their bodies.
Since the manatee are herbivores, their diet comprises of many different species of saltwater and freshwater plants. Freshwater hyacinth, lettuce, mangrove leaves, and hydrilla are examples of supplements in manatee’s diet. The endangered species also feed on seagrass, marine algae, and sea clover. The manatees are known to eat up to ten percent of their body weight on a daily basis. Additionally, the mammals also feed on small fish found in the fishing nets.
The species is known to reproduce once every two years. The females give birth to only one calf each time they reproduce. The manatee has a gestation period of nine months, and it takes the mothers the same period to wean their young ones.
Currently, the greatest threat facing the population of manatees in the US is the loss of habitat. The current population count of the manatees conducted in 2017 reveals that there is a minimum of 6,000 manatees still in existence. There is no precise estimation of the past population of the manatees. The reason is that the previous counts varied depending on weather conditions. Hence, the raw number could not reflect the actual population of the endangered species. The last count in Florida in 1996 showed 2600 manatees available. The reason why the manatees are listed as endangered species is because of the hundreds of the species’ deaths reported annually. The status of the current population is slowly stabilizing.
Some of the factors, which contributed to the endangerment of the manatee, are the following: humans have overexploited the manatees for decades because humans are the only predators to the species. People have been known to hunt the manatees widely for their fat, meat, and skin. In South and Central America, humans still hunt the species for food. Secondly, a majority of the manatees are killed in a collision with boats. Characterized by large bodies and known to live in shallow waters, the manatees swim slowly, and it is the reason of many collisions with speed boats. The total counts of collision with boats exceed 100 annually. For instance, more than 200 manatees were killed by boat accident in 1990, with others escaping with serious injuries. Thirdly, the exploitation of their natural habitats in the coastal regions have endangered the species. The current commercial and residential developments along rivers have affected the species population substantially. By destroying their natural habitat, their only source of food is damaged, leading to inadequate food supplies. Besides, chemical pollution from the various developments has had a significant effect on the immune systems of the manatees, which has made them susceptible to disease. Chemical pollution has contributed to the mass deaths of sea mammals before including the manatee. Since 1990, more than 240 manatees have been found dead in Florida. Since accidents, overexploitation and destruction of the species’ natural habitat have had a substantial impact on the manatee population, chemical pollution is threatening to erase the entire population.
The listing of the species was mandatory since the number of mature adults was found to be less than ten thousand species. Besides, the Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) expected the number of manatees to drop at a ratio of ten percent in the next twenty years. Therefore, the Florida manatee was listed in 1967 while the Antillean manatee was listed in 1970 within the legislations of the Endangered Species Preservation Act. The types of protection for the manatee include the following:
a. Habitat Conservation Plan
There has been the development of the county manatee protection plan in Florida. The local government in Florida has implemented numerous implementation plans, including the speed limit for the speed boats. The protection programs include the siting policies for boat facilities alongside other precautions to protect and conserve the manatees’ natural habitat.
b. Critical Habitat Designation
In an attempt to designate particular habitat for the manatee, the FWS and the state government of Florida have acquired land. In the acquired land, the FWS has designated new areas that are vital habitats for the species. Once the land is in federal ownership; the habitat is well protected, thereby safeguarding the manatee population. Some of the programs for designating habitat for the manatees include the Florida Forever Program (FFP). The FWS and the FFP acquired and managed hundreds of acres of land, which contains important habitat for the manatee and other endangered species. Moreover, the bodies are also finding methods to develop refugee and sanctuaries for the current manatee population.
c. Recovery Plan
The recovery plan for the manatee population involves their rescue, rehabilitation, and release. The FWS captures thousands of manatees under distress, treats and releases them back into their natural habitat. For the past twenty years, FWS alongside other private agencies has rescued and treated the manatees, to sustain their population numbers. Some of the species recovered include those with cold temperature stress, those injured by speed boats and those manatees entangled in fishing nets. The program staff and veterinaries have established protocols for the manatees. Since the rescue program began in 1973, the program has treated and rehabilitated more than 150 manatees.
d. Safe Harbor Agreement
The manatees have been protected for over forty years. The current developments in the coastal regions have been one of the factors endangering the species. Therefore, the government of Florida embarked on various approaches to protect the habitat. The state government of Georgia reviews and permits any construction projects to ensure they do not interfere with the species’ natural habitat. Covered for in the Endangered Species Act, the US Fish and Wildlife service reviews every construction and development permit that are adjacent to the habitat of the species.
Manatee’s Political and Social History
An estimated economic cost of legally protecting the manatee is 500 million dollars used in the purchase of two hundred thousand acres of land for designating the species habitat. The land hosts thousands of manatees, which are under recovery and protection of the FWS, Florida state government and the federal government. There is no real economic cost estimate for the recovery plans or the habitat conservation programs.
In 1967, the Endangered Species Preservation Act listed the Florida manatee as an endangered species. In 1970, the same act listed the Antillean manatee. Additionally, the Comprehensive Land Planning and Land Development Regulation Act established speed limit for boats and other vessels. The law also developed other protection plans for the manatees.
Numerous stakeholders are affected by the conservation program. They include the US Fish and Wildlife Services, the Florida state government, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and other private organizations. All the legislations work hand in hand to protect the manatee population and their natural habitat. Currently, there are no social or political controversies regarding the protection of the manatees.
In summary, one of biological importance of the manatees is that they are beneficial in influencing plant growth in their natural habitats. In the food chain, the manatees act as primary consumers, therefore regulating plant growth in the shallow ocean waters and estuaries. The other biological significance of the species is that it maintains viability within the water ecosystem their waste serve as nutrients of various species of fish. Additionally, the social and cultural symbolism of the species is that it represents the evolution of four legged animals, from over fifty million years ago, thereby becoming a symbol of evolution. The species is worth protecting because of its biological significance in the food chain. Besides, the species has lived for more than 50 million years, and it is important to preserve its existence. Because of the current protection measures for the species, the future status of the manatees will demonstrate an increase in their population because it has currently stabilized.
Allen, Aarin-Conrad, Sattelberger, Danielle C., and Edward O. Keith. "The People vs. the Florida Manatee: A Review of the Laws Protecting Florida's Endangered Marine Mammal and Need for Application." Ocean and Coastal Management, vol. 102, 2014, pp. 40-46.
Bagheera. “Florida (West Indian) Manatee an Endangered Species,” Bagheera, http://www.bagheera.com/inthewild/van_anim_manatee.htm. Accessed 20 April 2017.
Bradford, Alina. “Manatees: Facts about Sea Cows.” Live Science, http://www.livescience.com/27405-manatees.html. Accessed 20 April 2017.
Reep, Roger L., and Robert K. Bonde. The Florida Manatee: Biology and Conservation. University Press of Florida, 2010.
Runge, Michael C., et al. Status and threats analysis for the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris), 2016. No. 2017-5030. US Geological Survey, 2017.
Save the Manatee Club. “Manatee Facts.” https://www.savethemanatee.org/manfcts.htm. Accessed 20 April 2017.
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