Craig Pittman, St. Petersburg Times environmental reporter and author of Manatee Insanity: Inside the War Over Florida’s Most Famous Endangered Species, discusses manatees and the struggle to protect this endangered marine mammal. He tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme why manatees are so beloved and why these homely creatures are a flashpoint for Florida’s environmental debates. Did you know early sailors mistook manatees for mermaids? Or that the closest relative of the manatee on the evolutionary scale is the elephant?
Craig Pittman is an environment reporter for Florida’s largest newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times. Born in Pensacola, Craig graduated from Troy State University in Alabama, where his muckraking work for the student paper prompted an agitated dean to label him “the most destructive force on campus.” Since then he has covered a variety of newspaper beats and quite a few natural disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires and the Florida Legislature. Since 1998 he has reported on environmental issues for the St. Petersburg Times, and in 2004 won the Waldo Proffitt Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism in Florida for revealing a secret plan by the state’s business leaders to transfer water from sleepy North Florida to booming South Florida. The stories caused such an uproar that Gov. Jeb Bush scuttled the plan. In 2006, he won the Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting from the Society of Environmental Journalists and also the Proffitt award (with Matthew Waite) for the series “Vanishing Wetlands,” which found that federal and state wetland protection programs were a sham that enabled development to wipe out swamps and marshes. He and Waite shared a second Proffitt Award and a second Carmody Award in 2007 for a series called “When Dry is Wet” that exposed the flaws in the wetland mitigation banking industry. That led to their book, Paving Paradise: Florida’s Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss. Manatee Insanity: Inside the War Over Florida’s Most Famous Endangered Species, published by the University Press of Florida, is Craig’s second book. This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on December 6, 2010.