Crime & Justice

US Fish and Wildlife Service sued for not protecting manatee habitat

Miami, Feb 1 (EFE).- The US Fish and Wildlife Service is being sued for not acting to halt the destruction of manatee habitat in Florida, one of the plaintiffs – the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) – said Tuesday.

The non-profit organization based in St. Petersburg, Florida, filed the lawsuit in District of Columbia District Court along with two other non-profits: Defenders of Wildlife and Save the Manatee Club.

Last December, the three organizations had announced their intention to file suit against federal agencies in charge of protecting wildlife and nature given the serious situation being faced by Florida manatees (Trinchechus manatus) – also known as sea cows – due to the destruction of the marine wetlands that are their main source of food.

Specifically, the plaintiffs are challenging “the unlawfully withheld and/or unreasonably delayed actions by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in failing to take final action” on the plaintiff’s request for a rule to revise critical habitat for the Florida manatee.

The plaintiffs claim that manatee habitat areas are being contaminated with nutrients and toxic waste.

According to a preliminary report by the Florida Fish and Wilflife Commission, 1,101 of the marine animals died in the state during 2021, a record number that almost doubles the death toll in 2020 and broke the record of 803 deaths set in 2013, setting off alarm bells regarding the future of the gentle, plant-eating species.

Most of the manatees died in Brevard County’s portion of the Indian River Lagoon, according to Florida state wildlife data.

“The carnage from 2021 should remove any doubt that Florida’s waters are in crisis,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Florida director and senior attorney for the CBD, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “With these sweet creatures dying in record numbers, the Biden administration needs to act fast to protect manatee habitat from further destruction.”

Elizabeth Fleming, with Defenders of Wildlife, emphasized that “immediate action” is needed because after many decades of progress on conservation in just a single year more than 10 percent of Florida’s manatee population was lost.

The three organizations want the FWS to revise manatee critical habitat and describe the threats those waterways face so that manatee protection efforts can be better informed at the federal, state and local levels.

Meanwhile, Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club, criticized the “inability” of the FWS to protect the habitat of the manatees and also the fact that they have moved from being considered an endangered species to being only “threatened.”

That change “left imperiled manatees to suffer the deadly consequences of agonizing, yet preventable, mass starvation,” said Rose.

He said that the FWS must not delay any longer in revising and updating the manatees’ critical habitat, which was originally designated in 1976 and, in his judgment, is completely out of date.

The plaintiffs requested this revision for the first time in 2008 and although the FWS at the time felt that the revision was justified more than a decade afterwards the task has not been accomplished.

“Revised critical habitat is necessary to provide these imperiled marine mammals life-saving protections to enhance their recovery and to reduce the risk of their extinction,” the plaintiffs had stated in their intent-to-sue notification last August.

The experts have complained about the reduction – due to manmade pollution – of the marine grasslands where the animals feed, thus causing many of them to starve.

In early January, the US government approved an initiative to feet Florida manatees with lettuce, cabbage and other vegetables to try and halt the die-off.

EFE ar/abm/lll/bp

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