The start of 2016 looks promising for the West Indian manatees in Florida as wildlife officials announced plans to downlist the species from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On Jan. 7, officials from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced in a news conference that they have completed their review of the manatees' status and yielded positive results.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service recently completed our review of the manatee's status and based on the best available scientific information we believe the manatee is no longer in danger of extinction," said Mike Oetker, the service's deputy regional director for the southeast region.

The proposal to reclassify the manatee's status was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 8. A comment period of 90 days follows, in which the public is encouraged to present technical or scientific data that the USFWS can use to come up with a final decision on the matter.

Cindy Dohner, the agency's southeast regional director, says the news is encouraging and highlights the results of different conservation efforts. She added that the proposal does not only signify progress as it also recommits the agency to guaranteeing the long-term positive status of the manatees.

The USFWS collaborates with the Coast Guard to ensure that rules in areas under manatee protection protocols are strictly followed. So far, authorities are able to minimize the animals' collisions with high-speed boats and reduce fishing gear entanglement.

Other rescue and rehabilitation programs also contribute to the success of manatee survival, with majority of species being returned to the wild.

At present, the population of manatees in range-wide minimum known population is about 13,000. Out of this number, approximately 6,300 can be found in Florida. Such population in Florida saw a significant rise, considering that in 1991, the state only had about 1,267 manatees. This means that the number of manatees in Florida alone rose by 500 percent over the last 25 years.

Even if the downlisting pushes through, the manatees will still remain protected as per the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The ESA plays a significant part in saving and conserving wildlife species at risk. The act has saved about 99 percent of endangered or threatened species from going extinct. Through the ESA, individuals and organizations are encouraged to initiate conservation projects, thus hastening efforts to save species in danger.

Photo: Jim Reid, USFWS | Flickr

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.