Manatees were killed in record numbers by collisions with watercraft in Florida in 2002, according to the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The commission found that 95 manatees were killed by watercraft last year, or 14 more than in 2001. By contrast, overall manatee deaths in the state fell, from 325 in 2001 to 305 in 2002. The findings are likely to add fuel to an already fiery debate in Florida about whether the manatee’s status should be changed from endangered to threatened on state listings, a matter that will be considered by the commission on Jan. 23. Advocates of the change — mainly members of the Florida boating community — say the increased deaths simply reflect a larger overall manatee population, but conservationists say the species is still at risk and deserves the stricter protection. Since 1999, 902 Florida manatees have died, 254 of them from collisions with watercraft, out of a total known population of 3,276.
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