A few storm clouds are gathering over Earth Day this year, but there’s a silver lining.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted manatees under the U.S. Endangered Species Act from endangered to threatened status in March.
Florida manatees should have been exempted from this downlisting, which was based on studies of manatees in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Greater and Lesser Antilles.
Florida survey counts show increasing population numbers, but ignore the inequitable comparison of single day/single aircraft counts in years past with multi-day/multi-aircraft counts in recent years, which likely resulted in counting animals more than once, both by the same and different spotters.
The agency also did not consider the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat – primarily power plant closures – on which more than 60 percent of the Florida manatee population depends, nor did it consider the increasing popularity of recreational boating in Florida that further endangers the animals, few of which escape propeller cuts in their lifetimes.
The Environmental Protection Agency will have less ability to protect the environment with budget cuts announced in March that will reduce staff and cut funding for programs including water and air quality programs, environmental education programs, environmental law enforcement and five programs affecting Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, “returning the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities,” according to a March 21 EPA memo.
BP oil spill
April 20 is the seventh anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed 11 people and spilled 200 million gallons of oil over three months into the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas.
The 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant used to break up the oil into microscopic particles did not remove the oil from the Gulf, but made it invisible, and is thought by some scientists to be causing as much damage to marine life reproduction and health as the oil itself.
But one light on the horizon is a program by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, funded with restoration money provided by BP.
Seven Louisiana longline fishermen were chosen from about half of the 45 eligible vessel owners in the Gulf, some from Florida, who applied for a pilot project to voluntarily use alternative gear for a four-month pilot period ending June 30. If the gear works, a voluntary ban on longline fishing with traditional gear will be implemented six months of each year for the next 5-10 years to allow affected fish species to recover from the disaster.
A silver lining
Local folks have taken to heart the idea of Earth Day founder David Brower in 1970, “Think globally, act locally,” by planting trees and cleaning up Manatee County.
Keep Manatee Beautiful (KMB) is keeping the torch lit with the Great American Cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, in several locations, including Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive, Kingfish Boat Ramp on State Road 64 West at the drawbridge in Holmes Beach, and the FISH Preserve, 11601 Cortez Road W. Adopt-A-Highway, Road and Shore groups will be doing cleanups at their adopted sites, including Palma Sola Causeway and Anna Maria Island beaches.
Volunteers on the Island, in Cortez and on the causeway will be thanked with an Earth Day Party at Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, compliments of the Anna Maria Island Beach Café.
KMB also will host National Arbor Day ceremonies on Friday, April 28, when it will plant trees countywide.
In Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home,” he writes that in damaging the environment, we damage each other and future generations, and invites everyone to make a difference in small ways such as these.