The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Manatees' Fragile Fate Mirrors National Wildlife Peril

Senate Confirmation Hearing Today for Fish & Wildlife Service Director


The federal official most responsible for the precarious state of
the Florida manatee is undergoing Senate confirmation hearings today to
become the next Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
During the dozen years that Sam Hamilton headed the FWS southeast
region, the endangered Florida manatee has made only tenuous progress
toward recovery, principally due to lawsuits and not agency
initiatives, according to Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER).

With only 3,807 animals, according to 2009 agency estimates, the manatee is still in danger of spiraling toward extinction:

  • The potential biological removal level (PBR) is defined by
    the Marine Mammal Protection Act as "the maximum number of animals, not
    including natural mortalities that may be removed from a marine mammal
    stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum
    sustainable population." The PBR for manatees is approximately 12 per
    year. Yet, in 2008, a total of 337 manatees died, many directly at the
    hands of humans, primarily through boat collisions;
  • The
    State of Florida projects a 30 to 50% decline in manatee population
    over the next 60 years due to the triple threat of rising boat traffic,
    loss of habitat (particularly warm-springs) and red tides and algal
    blooms poisoning the manatees and their food supplies; and
  • Much critical manatee habitat is unprotected from swarms of tourists in "swim-with" encounters, or from boaters and fishermen.

"By every measure, Florida manatee populations are not recovering -
they are teetering on the precipice," stated PEER Staff Counsel
Christine Erickson. "What negligible population gains have occurred are
in spite of and not because of official intervention."

As the senior federal official responsible for the welfare of
Florida's manatee populations, PEER argues that Hamilton's management
of threats to the manatees bodes ill for the fate of other vulnerable
wildlife if he becomes FWS Director. Many of the most important steps
taken by FWS, such as the expansion of sanctuaries and establishment of
boating speed limits, have resulted from lawsuits brought against the
agency by conservation groups, such as the Save the Manatee Club. By
contrast, both federal and state agencies have sought to lower
protections and allow more marina development in areas now off-limits.

"Florida is a dying hotspot of biodiversity due to unchecked
development," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that FWS
under Hamilton's watch raised few objections to construction inroads
into wildlife habitat. "The Senate should carefully examine what has
happened to the manatee, the Florida panther and the web of other
endangered species in the region in making a decision as to whether
this nominee will be good leader for the Fish & Wildlife Service."

See the 2009 FWS West Indian Manatee Stock Assessment Report

View manatee mortality breakdown

Look at FWS failure to control harm from "swim-with" programs

Examine the Manatee Recovery Plan

Revisit efforts to down-list the manatee

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.