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The Manatees, and the Manatee Zones, Are Here to Stay

There’s good news for the manatees, Florida’s official marine mammal. They are no longer an “endangered” species; instead, they’ve been downgraded to just “threatened.” The U.S. Interior Department, which is in charge of such things, announced the change just after Manatee Appreciation Day. (Who knew? It’s March 29, in case you want to celebrate next year.)

Manatees, which can live 60 years or so, have been around for the past 45 million years. They move slowly, spending most of their time eating seagrass or sleeping, although they can swim four or five miles an hour if they really push it. They’re usually 10 to 12 feet long, and weigh 1,200 to 1,800 pounds. One problem is that they reproduce at a low rate. A mother manatee can give birth to a calf every three years, but then the calf is dependent on the mother for the next two. The other problem is that they and boats tend to end up in the same place a lot of the time.

In the ‘70s, Florida’s manatee population was down to just a few hundred, but now, after all the slow-down-for-manatees zones and other protections, the state has a healthy population of 6,620 manatees. Still, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which did the manatee review for the Interior Department, says we need to keep all the legal protections in place so the manatees don’t lapse back the “endangered” category. It seems like we’ll have to live with all those manatee zones for a long time to come. Yes, I know slowing down all the time is a pain, but personally, I think anybody who’s been around for 45 million years deserves a break.

For more: See Florida’s boater’s guide to living with manatees:

http://myfwc.com/media/2559124/Manatee-Marina-Brochure.pdf

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