Are Manatees Endangered? Here's What's Putting Them at Risk
Once mistaken for mermaids, manatees are some of the most mythical mammals around. Here's what you need to know about the sea cows—and the threats to their ecosystem.
The negative effects of climate change (and general human impact) can be hard to ignore. From extreme weather to looming landfills, we’re reminded daily of the toll that our actions can take on the environment. And although not always as close to home, declining wildlife populations are a reality that threatens the planet as we know it—from beauty to biodiversity.
Take manatees, for example. While the marine mammals—which sailors of the past mistook for mermaids—are not technically on the endangered species list right now, their populations are decreasing at an alarming rate. So where does that leave the sea cows?
Here’s everything you need to know about manatees and their status as a species, from external threats to how you can help.
Are Manatees Endangered?
Along with being downright majestic, manatees are essential to maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem, their diet of seagrass serving to keep the aquatic plants trimmed and the seabeds healthy. But whether or not manatees are endangered in 2023 is a tricky question.
Four years ago, manatees were downlisted from endangered to threatened on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, a planet win for environmentalists and scientists who have been working hard to protect manatees and their habitat. Unfortunately since then, the manatee population has suffered dramatic losses, with the death of 1,101 manatees in Florida in 2021, followed by nearly 800 deaths in 2022.
What Is Threatening Manatees?
Indian River Lagoon, a preserve in Florida that plays host to hundreds of manatees during the winter months, is quickly becoming an inhospitable habitat for the 1,000-pound creatures. A growing population has resulted in sewage leaks, polluting the waters and causing seagrass (aka the manatee's food source) to die.
2. Boating Accidents
Boating accidents involving manatees are on the rise, posing an immediate threat to the peaceful species. It’s reported that 96% of manatees have at least one propeller scar, and the creature is more prone to propeller strikes than any other marine mammal studied.
3. Increased Agriculture
Along with sewage runoff, the Indian River's burgeoning population also comes with a rise in agricultural activity.
The uptick in agriculture and development has done major damage to Florida's Everglades National Park, resulting in irregularities in water flow and even floods, the changes disrupting the manatees' ecosystem and habitat.
How Can We Help Manatees?
Members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have taken matters into their own hands by feeding manatees lettuce to prevent them from starving through the winter. Although this has helped keep manatees alive, it’s far from a sustainable solution.
Fortunately, there are many ways that you can help the manatees, regardless of where you live.
1. Spread the Word
The more you know about the current climate crisis and endangered or threatened wildlife, the better equipped you’ll be to advocate for change.
Start by signing petitions and getting involved in verified programs that are working toward helping save the manatees. Not only can you make a difference, but you can also educate and inspire others to do to the same.
2. Adopt a Manatee
Symbolically adopting a manatee can help fund programs designed to protect the sea cows and their threatened habitat.
Whether you choose to adopt a manatee or simply make a donation, you’ll be helping to fund efforts that strive to protect these vulnerable marine mammals.
3. Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle
If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of endangered wildlife or are dealing with climate anxiety in general, you’re not alone.
Small, sustainable changes to your lifestyle can help you remain empowered while lessening your environmental impact. Here are some ideas to get you started.
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