Struggling Florida Manatee Population Could Double Over The 50 Years, Study Says

Posted: Apr 13 2017, 2:07pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 13 2017, 2:09pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Struggling Florida Manatee Population will Double over the 50 Years, Study Says
Credit: USGS

Florida's iconic manatee population could flourish if wildlife managers continue to protect their habitat

After years of rigorous conservation efforts, Florida manatee has been recently removed from the list of endangered species. The chubby sea cow population is now relatively stable and the animal has been downgraded from “endangered” to “threatened” by US. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A new research suggests that Florida's manatee population could grow and double over the next 50 years if wildlife managers continue to protect the marine mammal and its habitat. There is a possibility that environmental changes could cause manatees to become less abundant in South Florida, but their population as a whole will remain high.

"Today the Florida manatees' numbers are high. Adult manatees' longevity is good, and the state has available habitat to support a population that is continuing to grow,” said lead researchers and USGS research ecologist Michael Runge. “Still, new threats could emerge, or existing threats could interact in unexpected ways. Managers need to remain vigilant to keep manatee populations viable over the long haul.”

The Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Today, the population of manatees in Florida consists of around 6,620 individuals. It is a dramatic turnaround from the 1970s, when just a few hundred manatees remained in the waters off Florida. In 1991, only 1,267 manatees were observed in Florida when an aerial survey was conducted. Thanks to the improvement in conditions of their habitat, Florida manatees’ number increased following years and showed considerable recovery.

Researchers from U.S. Geological Survey have been studying manatees since 1970s. They have photographed thousands of manatees over the years and they can identify each of them through their individual's unique pattern, scars and other markings. By using this database, USGS researchers have been able to develop a detailed understanding of how manatees interact with their environment. They also used computer models that assess how Florida manatee populations are doing and how they're likely to grow in coming decades.

Researchers have found that manatee populations will continue to face two longstanding threats: fatal collisions with boats and the loss of warm-water habitats that provide them with refuge during the winter. Despite these threats, there is a very slim chance that manatee population could fall to as few as 500 adults on either Florida's Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico.

The findings suggest that the recent recovery of manatee’s population is incredibly encouraging but manatees are still in danger. There is still more work to be done to overall population to grow or at least remain stable.

“If the rate of mortality from watercraft collisions were to double, the population's resilience would be compromised,” said Runge.

“Manatee populations will continue to face threats. But if these threats continue to be managed effectively, manatees will be an integral and iconic part of Florida's coastal ecosystems through the coming century.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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