March 31 (UPI) -- The manatee's status was upgraded from endangered to threatened, the Interior Department announced, citing the mammal's decade-long population boom in Florida.
Formally known as the West Indian manatee, and also called a sea cow, the aquatic animal has returned from near extinction in Florida.
Only several hundred were found in the state in the 1970s. In 1991, 1,267 were counted -- but Florida wildlife officials counted 6,620 in 2016. The downlisting from endangered status came after an effort by U.S. government agencies, Florida, Puerto Rico, other Caribbean countries and public and private organizations to improve the manatee's safety and habitats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday in a statement.
The 2016 manatee census was the third consecutive year of an increase in Florida.
The removal of the endangered status on what the Miami Herald called the poster mammal for Florida's environmental decline means the manatee is no longer in danger of extinction, but is likely to become so without continued protections of the Endangered Species Act.
Government and industry improvements to improve manatee safety include retrofitting water control devices at locks and levees; power companies addressing power plant outflows of warm water, where manatees congregate in the winter, and county manatee protection plans. Collisions with vessels remain the manatee's primary cause of death.