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For Immediate Release: Jan 22, 2008
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

LAWSUIT TO FORCE FLORIDA MANATEE OVERSIGHT RECORD RELEASE

Boating Speed Limits, Warning Signs and Swim-With Harassment at Issue


Washington, DC — Even as it seeks to downgrade protections for the endangered Florida manatee, the Bush administration is withholding records about how well key protections are being implemented, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

For the past eleven months PEER has been fruitlessly seeking records about the status of efforts to prevent boating deaths, the leading cause of manatee mortality, and stop harassment of manatees by swimmers.

The lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charges the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) with violating the Freedom of Information Act for failing to release –

  • Status reports on the repair needs and visibility of manatee-related speed limit and warning signs in Florida waters, including funds expended for sign replacement and maintenance;
  • Evaluations of the effectiveness of its signage in preventing death or injuries to manatees; and
  • An explanation of why the FWS has yet to adopt rules forbidding harassment involving swim-with interactions between manatees and humans.

Despite a record level of manatee deaths in 2006 and a high level in 2007, the Bush administration is pushing to downgrade the manatee from endangered status, which will facilitate construction of marinas and other development inside critical Florida coastal habitat areas.

“Apart from a manatee carcass count, we are trying to find out whether these endangered species are dying needlessly because the safeguards that are supposed to be in place are, in fact, absent,” stated PEER Counsel Adam Draper, who filed the suit. “For example, we have reports that speed limit and warning signs for boaters have not been replaced since the 2005 hurricanes.”

As an endangered species, manatees are not supposed to be harassed by humans. Yet right outside of a federal sanctuary, tourist resorts urge patrons to swim with manatees. The sea cows are poked, kicked, chased and calves become separated from their mothers. PEER is asking why FWS has not acted

PEER first requested the manatee records back in February 2007. Following an appeal in May due to non-response, the agency promised to deliver the material by July 16, 2007. After that self-imposed deadline passed, in September PEER again appealed. When that appeal produced no result, PEER finally sued.

“The manatee protection information we are requesting is precisely the sort of data the Fish & Wildlife Service should be actively tracking – they should not have to go on an archaeological expedition to dig it up,” Draper added, noting that the State of Florida recently shelved its own efforts to downgrade the protective status of the manatee. “We are not going away until we get our questions answered.”

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Read the PEER lawsuit

See the Bush administration effort to reduce protections for the manatee

Look at the original FOIA requests from PEER for—
Status of boating signage and

“Swim-with” safeguards