Manatees are the cute-looking sea cows that bring on Florida tourists like iron filings to a magnet. But now a group of environmentalists has alerted the federal government it plans to sue on behalf of the critters. In particular, the group wants the USA to implement a look-don't-touch (or swim) policy with manatees, cutting down the tourist-popular "swim with" programs you see at dive shops and such.
PEER -- or the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility -- sent a notice of intent to sue to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday. Specifically, the organizations says it plans to base its legal attack on the service's breach of the Endangered Species Act. The feds are in violation, PEER explains, through their continued practice of issuing "Special Use Permits" to dive shops who let people swim with manatees in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The federal government also has failed to offer needed protection for three manatee-heavy areas -- Kings Bay, Three Sister Springs, and Homosassa Springs.
This isn't the first time PEER has logged these complaints. In 2009, the organization sent a similar letter of intent to the government asking it to stop all "swim with" programs.
In response, Fish and Wildlife snapped into action and did an assessment of the impact these programs were having on the manatees. That assessment was recently completed. It found no significant impact and failed to lay out restrictions for human-manatee interactions.
"Five years ago, we served a similar notice but agreed to hold off suing because the Service promised to make improvements," Laura Dumais, PEER's attorney, stated in a news release from the organization. "In the succeeding years, the problems have only gotten worse and it has become clear that the Service has no intention of taking meaningful corrective action."
The PEER lawsuit would push for three things: a ban on all "swim with" programs, as well as a law-stamped ten-foot buffer zone between manatees and humans; new no-human access areas for manatees; and the designation of the "Kings Bay, Three Sister Springs, and Homosassa Springs as critical manatee habitat," according to the release.
Per the notice of intent, the agency now has 60 days to address the issues before PEER can file suit.
Follow Kyle Swenson on Twitter: