"The survey is flown during the cold weather, providing broad-scale information about manatee distribution among warm-water sites that the species requires to survive", McRae explained past year.
State wildlife officials and manatee advocates have voiced concern about the high number of manatee deaths occurring after collisions with watercraft.
The agency early a year ago proposed making the change because of "significant improvements" in the manatee population and habitat conditions.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported Monday a preliminary count of 6,620 manatees in Florida waters.
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There's some good news out of Florida: For the third straight year, spotters counted more than 6,000 manatees navigating Florida's waters.
Researchers with the FWC determine the number of manatees by performing an annual survey after a cold front to determine the head count.
Given the mild winter, Hartley said he continues to see new manatees coming into the park "because they're out traveling in the warm water". A total of 3,488 manatees were found on the state's east coast while another 3,132 were found along the west coast. The annual count appears after the US Fish, and Wildlife Service is still debating their decision on to reclassify the West Indian manatee as either threatened or endangered.
"The manatee's recovery is incredibly encouraging and a great testament to the conservation actions of many", Cindy Dohner, the Southeast regional director for US Fish and Wildlife, said at the time.
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The foundation has represented residents who formed the organization Save Crystal River.
Some in the state have questioned the effectiveness of boating speed zones meant to protect the species. Then, in 2012, the Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the agency to downlist them.
The scientists conducting the aerial surveys always warn the public not to treat the manatee numbers as if they were a census.
"Should the Service decide reclassification is warranted, the species would remain protected under both the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act", he adds. "If the major threats to a species are still in existence, a downlisted species is likely to need to be re-listed as endangered eventually, and in the meantime population declines could pose a threat of extinction".
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