Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Florida manatees hit record numbers as conservation efforts bear fruit

Monday 16 March 2015 16.55 GMT

A record number of manatees have been tallied in Florida’s annual survey of the endangered marine mammals, state wildlife officials said on Monday.

The total of 6,063 manatees tops the previous record set in 2010 by about 1,000, but that does not mean the state’s manatee population has grown by that much, according to the Florida fish and wildlife conservation commission.

The state conducts the aerial surveys each year, depending on the weather. Researchers have no way to estimate the number of manatees that are not visible during the surveys, so the tally is considered a minimum count of Florida’s manatee population.

“The high count this year shows that our long-term conservation efforts are working,” said Richard Corbett, the commission’s chairman.

This year’s survey was helped by sunny weather that led manatees to bask at the surface as they crowded into warm waters, said commission biologist Holly Edwards.

A team of 20 observers from 11 organizations counted 3,333 manatees on Florida’s east coast and 2,730 on the west coast.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee population has rebounded enough to be reclassified as a threatened species, instead of endangered.

Critics of current boating and fishing restrictions in waters popular with manatees have petitioned the federal government to upgrade the animals’ status, citing a 2007 federal review that found the population was recovering.

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