Manatee Tags May Become Unavailable

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Fans of Florida’s beloved manatees are frustrated that one of the main funding sources for protection programs is losing money.

Although "Save the Manatee" license plates remain among the most popular in the state, fewer are being sold as more kinds of plates become available. Environmental activists say all those choices could put the sea cow’s future at risk.

Michael Dixon proudly displays his Tampa Bay Bucs specialty tag. He has no problem with the fact that Florida motorists have nearly 90 to choose from.

Michael says, “I like having a lot of choices. I think it gives everybody the opportunity to display whatever they want to display.”

But all those choices are giving manatee advocates heartburn. Money raised from the Save the Manatee license plate goes into programs to help protect the sea cow, but the tags are doing $1 million less in sales a year than they did 10 years ago.

Save the Manatees president Pat Rose blames competition from so many other tags that lawmakers keep approving.

Pat says, “They have put some safeguards in. If you don’t sell so many plates then you shouldn’t have those plates continue, and they say they’re not going to do more, but then they turn around and almost always do more.”

You will have 100 tags to choose from in Florida by next year. Thirteen of them, including the manatee tag, support environmental causes. Even the lawmakers who keep proposing new tags admit there’s a price.

If state officials truly want to protect manatees, Rep. Curtis Richardson says maybe they should put their money where their mouth is.

“If their primary source of revenue is dwindling because we’ve allowed so many license plates to come into the market, then I think the state needs to step up and provide the additional revenues that’s needed.”

In the meantime, state wildlife officials are planning a more aggressive PR campaign to promote environmental tags, including the one with the manatee on it.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the Save the Manatees license plate is in the process of being redesigned to give it a new look.