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Manatee Synoptic Surveys and Reclassification Matter

An extremely interesting discovery made by Citizens For Florida’s Waterways, CFFW, is the enormous difference between the annual FWC manatee synoptic surveys and a much better count done by FPL, which on average counted 750 more manatees in Brevard than FWC.

Many people probably buy the notion that manatee synoptic (visual) surveys don’t matter. In fact, FWC surveys are used by the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, FWS, to calculate how many human-caused deaths can occur annually and still achieve “recovery.”

This calculation is called “potential biological removal,” or PBR and the “official” PBR says just 14. We call it “funny math,” because the calculation doesn’t match reality at all – it is accepted that manatee numbers are growing rapidly, doubling about every 11 years. But, because manatees are listed as “endangered,” FWS can only allow for one-tenth of the PBR that would be calculated for an unlisted species.

If manatees were reclassified as “threatened,” PBR would be about 75 using FWC data. That’s still fewer than annual human-caused mortality, and still not accounting for the rapid growth rate. If manatees were off the imperiled list, PBR would be 150/year, accounting for all mortality and much of the growth rate. But we aren’t done yet.

If the more comprehensive FPL survey method was used statewide, a PBR of more than to 200 could be reached and the species would still thrive. And that matches reality.

To sum up, the synoptic counts do matter, and are used for policy determinations. The method used to conduct surveys can be improved, and the critter needs to be delisted. Then, FWS could end the folly where every boat strike necessitates a speed zone, and start managing toward a healthy, sustainable population.

We’re at a point where “endangered” can be “dangerous” to the health of the Indian River, Florida, and manatees.

Bob Atkins, President, Citizens For Florida’s Waterways
Steven Webster, Past-president