A group of researchers today started manatee research captured in the Belize City area. The program is being led by Sea to Shore Alliance and is supported by the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute and the Sirenia Project of the US Geological Survey. The research captures have been carried out since 1997 and so far one hundred twenty-eight manatees have been subject to the research. Nicole Auil Gomez, Associate Scientist and Jamal Glavez, Manatee Research Associate both from Sea to Shore Alliance say the study is vital for the conservation of the manatees, especially since Belize has the largest surviving population.

Nicole Auil Gomez - Associate Scientist
“The Antillean subspecies is considered threatened under the IUCN and it is also identified by UNEF as one of the most important marine mammals for the Caribbean. Belize is fortunate enough to have the largest number than any other country. the number we have, probably about a thousand, it is hard to get a population estimate since we have much cloudy waters, and it’s hard to do a correction factor when you have turbulent waters or waves or something like that. Because Belize is in a position where we can help the population we need to be learning more about where they go, where they go and their health in particular. We have been seeing issues of pollution for instance in the Placencia lagoon that has affected the health of the manatee there and get parasites that cause pneumonia symptoms.”

Jamal Glavez - Manatee Research Associate
“In 2010 we have seen a massive increase in deaths as a result of human activity, mainly water craft collisions which is really bad because Belize is the country known as the country that has the highest population of the species and others are dependent on this country in order to make manatees more prevalent in their areas and if we are taking such a hit and the population is estimated at a thousand it is not good to have these accidents onto these animals.”

According to the Alliance, Belize ranks the greatest threat to the manatees due to watercraft speeding and habitat degradation. Through the captures, researchers can conduct a wide range of health assessments on the mammals.

Nicole Auil Gomez - Associate Scientist
“We do health assessments for the animals and we also capture them to put tags on them, radio tags. So you might see a floating device behind the manatee and that is the radio or satellite tag. It allows us to track the manatees remotely. The satellite tag sends signals to the satellite and I can down load it on the computer and see where the animal is and we normally get about four locations a day. We have biologist who will also go out to survey for the animal to identify where it is, what it’s doing and take recordings of what the habitats are like. So we are going to be doing tagging offshore here and within the next couple days. So hopefully we catch something today and put on one of these tags.”

The group will also be taking measurements, blood samples, and genetic materials for further analysis and to assess reproductive status. The program is the longest running health and tracking study on individual manatees in the Americas. The team will be working from June seventh to the tenth in the Belize City area and will move to the Southern Lagoon on June twelfth to the fifteenth. The team is also joined by students, biologists and other supporters from Belize, Cuba, Australia and the United States.