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Florida Manatee Habitat Will Be Reconsidered

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to revise its 1976 designation of critical habitat for the Florida manatee, to include essential features of such habitats, determine the impact of the steep rise in the human population of Florida, and assess changes needed as a result of increased understanding of manatee behavior.

A consortium of environmental groups including the Wildlife Advocacy Project, Save the Manatee Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife petitioned the agency to add a list of essential elements that need to be protected in critical habitat. Such a list was not required when the manatee was first given endangered status. The list of essential features recommended by the petitioners includes warm water, a variety of food sources including seagrasses and freshwater vegetation, travel corridors, shelter for calving, specific indicators of water quality such as salinity, and depth.

Manatees have served as one of the iconic species in the modern wildlife conservation movement due in part to their massive size - adults reach 12 feet in length and 1,800 pounds in weight - and their playful manner. The gentle mammals are threatened by destruction and degradation of their coastal and freshwater habitat although the leading known cause of death is by boat strikes. Most manatees have a pattern of scars on their backs or tails after surviving collisions with boats and scientists use these patterns to identify individuals.

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