Here's an Easy Way to Help Manatees

Free the Ocean's petition hopes to get manatees listed as endangered again.

A pair of manatees swimming in Fanning Springs State Park, Florida.
A pair of manatees swimming in Fanning Springs State Park, Florida. Michael Wood/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

It's been an awful year so far for manatees. But with a simple online click, you can ask to get them more protections.

But first the background.

In the first half of 2021, through early July, at least 841 West Indian manatees died, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). That's more than ever before in the state's recorded history. The previous high was 830 total manatee deaths in 2013.

In all of 2020, 637 manatees died, according to the FWC.

The record deaths have been classified as an "unusual mortality event" by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). An unusual mortality event is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as, "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response."

The main reason for these days is starvation due to lack of seagrass. Most of the deaths this year were in Indian River Lagoon in the colder months where seagrass died off, leaving the manatees without enough to eat.

Because manatees have very little body fat to keep them warm, they need warm water to survive. If water temperatures get below about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celcius), manatees will usually move into warmer areas. Even if there's not enough food in those warmer waters, manatees will choose warmth over meals.

Manatees face threats from human activities including watercraft collisions, entanglement in fishing gear, habitat loss, and illegal hunting, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

There are about 7,500 manatees according to the FWC. Other estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the nonprofit group Safe the Manatee range from 5,733 to 6,300.

Saving the Manatee

Not long after Manatee Appreciation Day in 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) changed the status of the species from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The downlisting was announced as good news, federal agencies said at the time, noting that increases in population and habitat improvements made the change possible.

“While there is still more work to be done to fully recover manatee populations, particularly in the Caribbean, manatee numbers are increasing and we are actively working with partners to address threats,” said Jim Kurth, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s acting director, at the time. “Today we both recognize the significant progress we have made in conserving manatee populations while reaffirming our commitment to continuing this species’ recovery and success throughout its range.”

But the change also meant that the manatees now have fewer protections. As manatee deaths hit record-breaking numbers, many conservationists are working to have the manatees' status restored as endangered.

Free the Ocean has started a petition asking Martha Williams, the principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to put manatees back on the endangered species list.

The group writes:

To help ensure the survival of manatees and their habitat, it’s critical that the federal government restores the manatees’ status as endangered. This will also provide more resources and funding for the people already working to save manatees on the ground.

To sign the petition, visit Free the Ocean.

View Article Sources
  1. "Preliminary 2021 Manatee Mortality Table by County." Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory, 2021.


  3. "Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  4. "Manatee Mortality Event Along the East Coast: 2020-2021." Florida Fish and Wildlife, 2021.

  5. "Manatee FAQ." Save the Manatee.

  6. "Florida’s Iconic Manatees Are In Trouble, Help Save Them!" Free the Ocean.

  7. Deutsch, C.J., Self-Sullivan, C. & Mignucci-Giannoni, A. "American Manatee: Trichechus manatus." The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2008: e.T22103A935691, doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T22103A9356917.en

  8. "Florida Manatee Program." Florida Fish and Wildlife.

  9. "Population." Save the Manatee.

  10. "West Indian Manatee." U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

  11. "Manatee Reclassified from Endangered to Threatened as Habitat Improves and Population Expands – Existing Federal Protections Remain in Place." U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2017.