Florida’s Endangered Manatees May Get New Habitat Protection

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 308
Eric Glitzenstein, Wildlife Advocacy Project, (202) 588-5206
Pat Rose or Katie Tripp, Save the Manatee Club, (407) 539-0990
Elizabeth Fleming, Defenders of Wildlife, (727) 823-3888 

Conservation Groups

Florida’s Endangered Manatees May Get New Habitat Protection

SAN FRANCISCO - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
announced today that new critical habitat protections may be warranted for the Florida manatee. The
notice, published in today's Federal Register, is in response to a
petition to revise the manatee's critical habitat filed by the Center for
Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Save the Manatee Club, and the
Wildlife Advocacy Project. According to the petition, manatees need new
protected habitat because a vast body of science has developed about what areas
are essential to the survival of manatees since the critical habitat was
originally designated in 1976.

Patti Thompson, a leading manatee biologist who co-authored
the petition for the Wildlife Advocacy Project, said she is "pleased that
the Service is moving forward with this long overdue strengthening of the
manatee's habitat designation. Our petition is designed not only to update the
geographic areas using the latest available scientific information, but also to
address the absence in the current designation of required 'constituent
elements' that must be protected, such as warm water, travel corridors, and
food sources. Although these omissions were understandable when manatee
critical habitat was first designated more than 30 years ago, it is vitally
important that the designation now be based on the best science
available."

"Habitat protection is the key to ensuring the recovery
of Florida's
endangered manatees," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at
the Center for Biological Diversity. "Today's announcement is an
important step toward reducing threats to manatees and preserving Florida's natural
heritage."

The Florida
manatee was one of the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act
and among the first to have critical habitat designated for protection. 
These protections have helped slow the decline of manatees and promoted their
conservation, but manatees still face a host of threats, and new habitat
protections are urgently needed.

"Save the Manatee Club looks forward to working
closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service to undertake this essential and long
overdue effort to identify and protect habitat critical to the manatee's
long term survival," said Pat Rose, executive director of Save the
Manatee Club.

Critical habitat designation is meant to identify the areas
that are essential for the manatee's conservation and recovery.
"Updating the critical habitat designation will ensure that the best
available science is used to protect manatee habitat," said Elizabeth
Fleming, Florida
representative of Defenders of Wildlife.

Manatee habitat is threatened by a variety of factors, such
as coastal development; propeller scarring and seagrass damage; dams and other
water control structures; and pollution and marine debris, including derelict
fishing gear. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than seven
times the sustainable level of Florida's
manatees are killed each year by human activities, including vessel collisions.

Today's announcement means that the Fish and Wildlife
Service will conduct a full review of scientific information to determine
whether additional critical habitat protections are needed. Critical habitat
designation is an important layer of protection that means that any federal
activity conducted in the area must undergo environmental review to ensure that
it does not harm or destroy the manatee's habitat. A rule proposing new
critical habitat is due by December 19, 2009, a year from the date the petition
was filed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is soliciting information and
accepting comments on manatee critical habitat for 30 days. 

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national,
nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online
activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
For more information, visit
www.biologicaldiversity.org.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to
the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.
With more than 1 million
members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for
innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to
come.  For more information, visit
www.defenders.org

Save the Manatee Club was established
in 1981 to protect manatees and their aquatic habitat for future generations
and today, it is the world's leading manatee conservation
organization.  The Club is a membership-based, national nonprofit
organization that promotes public awareness and education; sponsors local and
international scientific research and rescue, rehabilitation, and release
efforts; and advocates for the conservation of manatees and their essential
habitat based on the best available scientific data.  For more information,
please visit
www.savethemanatee.org

The Wildlife Advocacy
Project
is a non-profit advocacy organization that seeks to
complement and supplement the efforts of grassroots wildlife protection
activists to win long-lasting conservation benefits for animals and the
planet.  It pursues its mission through publication education and
science-based advocacy, and urges recognition and respect for the innate wild
nature of all wildlife, whether in the wild or held in captivity.
For more
information, visit
www.wildlifeadvocacy.org.

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