For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

New Lawsuit Looms for Manatee Protection

Record Mortality Cited in Legal Notice Seeking Sanctuary Designation

WASHINGTON - Florida's largest natural spring haven for wintering manatees should
be put off limits to swimmers and snorkelers, according to a formal
notice of intent to sue filed today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The legal notice cites cold-shock
from loss of warm water habitat as causing the record high mortality
levels in 2009 and 2010 for the acutely endangered sea cow.

At
issue are the manatee "swim-with" operations in Kings Spring, located at
the headwaters of Crystal River about 60 miles north of Tampa and 30
miles west of Ocala. Each year, an estimated 100,000 tourists swim
among the manatees, in some cases kicking and riding the animals, as
well as separating mothers from calves. Kings Spring is the primary
source for warm water which an estimated 800 manatees need for thermal
regulation to survive.

PEER points to studies showing that
swimmers drive the manatees out of the warm spring into colder waters.
The record cold weather this winter has killed an astounding 280
manatees due to cold stress-related illnesses, about 5% of the estimated
total manatee population. As of March 24th, 431 manatees have died in
2010, already surpassing in three months the record for manatee deaths
for any full calendar year on record. Most of this year's manatee
deaths were adults who died of acute cold shock.

"This winter
was catastrophic for the Florida manatee and we need to take steps now
to prevent a recurrence," stated PEER Counsel Christine Erickson, who
drafted the filing. "The Fish & Wildlife Service cannot waste any
more time - they must act now to protect this species from further
harm."

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Last summer, PEER petitioned the Fish & Wildlife
Service to 1) stop issuing commercial swim-with permits; 2) adopt rules
forbidding swimming with the manatees; and 3) expand critical habitat
status to key manatee breeding and resting areas. In August, the agency
rejected the first two prongs of the PEER petition and indicated that
it would consider additional critical habitat. On January 12, 2010, the
Service issued a finding acknowledging that the current habitat
designations were insufficient to protect the endangered manatee
population, but declined to act due to the need to address unspecified
"higher priority listing-related actions and funding constraints."

"The
Service admits that critical habitat status is warranted but
inexplicably says that taking simple actions to protect manatees, one of
the most endangered marine mammals in the U.S., are not a priority,"
Erickson added. "Had the Fish & Wildlife Service acted voluntarily
last year in response to our petition, some of these manatee deaths
could have been avoided."

The PEER notice of intent to sue
filed under the Endangered Species Act gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service up to 60 days to act or risk facing a lawsuit demanding a
mandatory sanctuary designation for Kings Spring.

 

Read
the notice of intent to sue

Look at the
vulnerability of Florida's manatee population

See the Fish
& Wildlife service rejection of the 2009 PEER petition

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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.

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