Manatee Insanity:
Inside the War over Florida's Most Famous Endangered Species

Craig Pittman

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"The best available, most factual account of the decades-long struggle to protect the Florida manatee, skillfully told by a veteran journalist who has followed the story closely. I’ve been involved in this controversy for over 30 years, and I learned countless things about it that I never knew!"--Daryl Domning, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

"The Florida legislature gave the manatee its own license plate, and Jimmy Buffet sang poetic lyrics about the iconic creature, but Craig Pittman offers a whole new perspective--the manatee as battleground. With a cast of characters including environmentalists and biologists, developers and boaters, lawyers and lobbyists, politicians and shady citizens, Manatee Insanity is a colorful work of non-fiction."--Keith Rizzardi, South Florida Water Management District

Loveable or loathed? Poster child for conservation efforts or impediment to development? Nuisance or in need of protection? For the past two decades, the quiet manatee has been a flash point of frequent environmental debates.

Included on the very first endangered species list issued in 1967, the docile creatures have stirred curiosity and passions for more than a hundred years. They are Florida's most famous endangered species, as well as its most controversial. Manatees appear on hundreds of license plates, attract hordes of tourists, and expose the uneasy relationships between science and the law and between freedom and responsibility like no other animal.

As passions have flared and resentments have grown, the battle over manatee protection has evolved into a war, and no reporter has followed the story more closely than Craig Pittman. He’s flown with scientists trying to count manatees from overhead. He’s been on the water with the leader of the biggest pro-boater group. He's observed biologists dissecting the animals and politicians discussing their fate.

Manatee Insanity provides the first in-depth history of the attempts to provide legal protection for the manatee. Along the way, Pittman takes a close look at the major and minor players in the dispute, from Jacques-Yves Cousteau to Jeb Bush, from Jimmy Buffett to O. J. Simpson, from a popular children's book author to a federal lawman who dressed in a gorilla suit for the ultimate undercover assignment.

Craig Pittman, native Floridian, is an award-winning journalist for the state's largest paper, the St. Petersburg Times. He is also the coauthor of Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss.

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"Fine case study of just how difficult it is to reconcile contending individual interests to the greater good - in this case, a greater good that includes the interests of the animal kingdom." St. Petersburg Times

"The reasons for praising this book are many, not the least of which is the lesson readers receive in the roles that waterfront dwelling and water recreation have played in Florida's history." "As the few smooth, marine beasts continued easing along estuaries to be warm, many rough, political beasts slouched towards Tallahassee to be heard." "Pittman surely considered the various ways he could have approached this story, and he chose interwoven narratives that personalize the many characters written with a carefully controlled measure of journalistic distance while not aloof. The choice was wise. We witness the fate of Florida's manatees passing through the hands of squabbling, flesh-and-blood humans whose disputes often have more to do with politics and personalities than with perserving a beloved and iconic beast." "Learning from Craig Pittman that the long, historical view on these issues provides a crucial piece in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing, but always captivating puzzle that is Florida is enlightening to all." Florida Historical Quarterly

"The descriptions are vivid, and narratives are masterfully woven into a complex story that is a pleasure to read. Regardless of whatever side of the issue a person takes, the book is very informative and will provide enjoyable reading." Choice Magazine, Vol. 47, No. 11

"As passions have flared and resentments have grown, the battle over manatee protection has grown into a war, and no one has followed the story more closely than the author who provides the first in-depth history of the attempts to provide legal protecton for the manatee." Abstracts of Public Adminstration, Development, and Environment

"Pittman paints a colorful, and at times disturbing, picture of the battle over the manatee's place in Florida; as he casts developers, boaters, and property rights advocates against environmentalists, scientists, and nature lovers, with the manatee squarely in the middle." "For Pittman, the struggle represents two very different visions of the Florida dream - one designed around low taxes, little government interference in daily lives, and unbridled growth; the other around protecting and nurturing the environment that has made Florida such a unique and desirable place to live." "An important book." "Much more than a description of the struggle over the survival of the manatee. It is a depiction of a much larger struggle - one for the very soul of the place we call Florida. H-Net Reviews

"Reads like a true-life thriller." Birds and Books (Blog)

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