Saving the manatee population
From time to time we have reported on the threats to manatees. The Sea to Shore Alliance has been monitoring the gentle mammals and has found out that their increased mortality rate could either be because there are more manatees or more boat traffic in the area. The Alliance is determined to enforce regulations to save the manatees from their biggest threat… speeding boats. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports.
Delahnie Bain, Reporting
The media was taken out on the Belize River today to an area heavily populated with manatees. The river mouth area is a no wake zone, but since enforcement has been lacking, numerous manatees have been killed by speeding boats. But the Sea to Shore Alliance, the Coastal Zone Management Authority and the Belize Port Authority have come together to lay down the law for boat captains.
Jamal Galves, Manatee Research Associate, Sea to Shore Alliance/CZMAI
“We have a no wake zone coming in towards the river and leaving the river. It’s pretty much, not more than a couple from each other. It’s a small area, but it’s an area that we have seen a lot of manatees and we know that the boat traffic is very high in this area so we’re hoping that the regulation will change boat movements in this area and eventually change the increasing mortality rates.”
Michael Jenkins, Chief Hydrographer/Port State Control Officer, Bze. Port Authority
“The Belize Port Authority will, along with the coastal Zone, be monitoring this area. After studies done by the Coastal Zone we have learned that this area has a high population of manatees and one of our main objectives is to protect our environment. So we will be monitoring this area.”
The first step was to put up signs, indentifying the no wake zone.
“We had these signs donated to us by Save the Manatee Club from Florida along with Sea to Shore alliance. We have noticed that the majority of manatee collisions are in this are so we are focusing in this area. So we have these no wake zone signs that we’re working together with the Port Authority to regulate boat movements within this area to see if it may change the rate of manatee deaths in this area. We have a couple more signs coming in; especially one for the manatee lookout area where most people know that you can go and have a beer or have lunch and you could actually see a manatee from there so we’re trying to protect the manatees in the area that they are more present.”
There will also be regular patrols in the area to ensure that the regulations are being respected.
“Coastal Zone is an established organization, they have a role to play and I expect that they will be helping us in this area by making themselves present in these locations.”
“We’re gonna have people out here on a regular basis to monitor, especially on days when they have tourism boats are in. those are the days that we are targeting especially.”
That’s because tour guides are among the most frequent visitors to the area. And while they slow their boats to allow passengers to see the manatees, they’re not as cautious when driving off. But Manatee Research Associate, Jamal Galves, says that following the regulations will also benefit the tour guides.
“It’s a mutual benefit between manatees and tour guides. The manatees are going to get comfortable once they realize that they are safe in the area and tour operators come here to see manatees as a part of their tour package and if the manatees are comfortable, they’re gonna be here so majority of the time they can guarantee their clients that there’s a ninety-five percent chance that they’re going to come here and see a manatee. If they abide by this, it’s going to be beneficial to them and it’s going to be beneficial to the manatees in terms of their population rate.”
Anyone caught disobeying the law will be taken court and charged.
“There will be penalties. We’re asking that the public records—take photographs, call in to the Port Authority and give as much information on vessels breaking the speed limit, which is we’re requiring five knots or less in this area. The Coastal area of Belize is a no wake zone and there is a fine of two hundred and fifty dollars for breaking this law.”
And because there is a lot of debris and floating logs in the area, slowing down can also prevent damage to vessels.