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'Plump Granny' Mammal Thwarts Florida Business Plans


MIAMI, March 15 (Reuters) - The riverbank that hugs this city's downtown has in recent years sprouted flashy rows of towering high-rises and trendy restaurants. More boat slips are envisioned so water taxis can handle larger crowds.

But as business owners chart their course to prosperity, they have bumped up against a formidable adversary: Florida's much-loved "sea cow," the manatee.

When a county commissioner recently suggested relaxing guidelines intended to protect the blubbery creatures on the Miami River and other waterways, it set off the latest iteration of a perennial battle. Floridians are generally supportive of development, but they also adore their manatees, a gray, bulbous endangered aquatic species that weighs 800 to 1,200 pounds (363 to 544 kilograms).

"It's easy to draw battle lines, and it's really unfortunate," said Mark Bailey, executive director of the Miami River Marine Group, which includes marinas and shipyards that would like a chance to expand.

Native to Florida's rivers, bays and coastal waters, manatees have for decades been listed as an endangered species. They have no real defenses and cannot survive long in water colder than 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

Designated as the state marine mammal, the creature is a tourist draw in parts of the state where dozens of them cluster near warm springs and power plants. ANational Park Service website described the manatee's appeal as that of "a plump grandmother with flippers like oven mitts, outstretched as if inviting a hug." Anyone who harms the so-called gentle giants risks arrest.