For years now, the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, through the Belize Manatee Conservation Program, has been creating awareness on the death of manatees caused by boaters in no wake zones and other specific areas that the mammals frequent. In 2014, a total of thirty-four Antillean manatees, which has its highest population in Belize, died from boating incidents and this year, the numbers are greater. With four months remaining to the end of the year, that number for 2015 is already at thirty-seven; and that’s only the reported cases. It’s of concern to Program Coordinator, Jamal Galvez.

Jamal Galvez

Jamal Galvez, Coordinator, Belize Manatee Conservation Program

“We have identified the users of the area that we considered the hotspot for manatee deaths. We’ve invited them out to come to the workshop. This workshop as organized by the B.T.B. along with the Coastal Zone Management, Sea to Shore Alliance and Wild Tracks, Friends of Swallows Caye and Port Authority. We have a bunch of people…we have identified the stakeholders that are in charge of many different aspects and we figured if we are going to make this work, we gotta get all the pieces of the puzzle together. We invited these guys today to get them to see first-hand what is the issue that we are facing, how they are causing these troubles and how they can change their behavior. So far it seems very positive; it is very important—education is key. We don’t want to be out there penalizing people, giving out tickets and whatever. We want to give education so that people can understand how they are affecting and how they ca make a difference. I think negligence has some percentage to do with it. We want to give people the benefit of the doubt; maybe it is the lack of knowledge. We often spread the word in everywhere that we can. And we continue to spread the word. Our efforts is big and it is going to get better. I feel that if we equip them with the knowledge, they may change their behavior, but in everything, you have a few individuals that choose to be negligent, choose to be ignorant. And we are going to have to deal with those people accordingly; the law is going to have to deal with those individuals. The others that don’t know we are going to share with them how we can. The Port Authority and other government agency will hold them with their mandate to enforce these penalties.”

Tour Guides and Boat Captains Educated on Manatees

Shola Babb

The workshop, organized by the Belize Tourism Board, is a certification course for the tour guides and boat captains. There is a need for this says, Galvez, because stakeholders in the tourism industry, as well as fishermen, are sometimes negligent in no wake zones and other areas. But there are hefty fines that can be imposed on tour guides and boat captains involved in these incidents at sea.

Shola Babb, Capacity Building and Sustainable Tourism Officer, B.T.B.

“Getting the reports from Jamal about how many manatees are being killed or hurt or maimed during the process of tour guides and tour operators using the waterways, we thought it was necessary for us to step in and see how we can assist. We thought that we would help him put off this training to impress upon the tour guides and boat captains the importance of paying attention when carrying out their tours and traveling through the water. From the B.T.B. side, not at the moment, but from the Belize Port Authority, they have very hefty fines that they can put on the tour operators or whoever is operating the boat to charge them if they are not following the laws of the water.”

Duane Moody

“As a boat captain, do you find that you adhere to the signage out there saying there is a no wake zone, manatees in the area, slowing down and all of those things?”

Keith Anderson

Keith Anderson, Boat Captain, Stress-less Aquatic Tours

“Personally, yes. If you understand the passion I have about marine life in general, the ecosystem, yes. Yes I do and I wish everyone else would follow that. Sometimes people speed pass for many reason; some just ignorant, some under the influence of alcohol and so it is a risk that you might run over even somebody. Because in these areas where there is no wake zones, there’s people swimming in these areas—not just manatees—and boats still speed through. So the no wake zone is something that we need to enforce, respecting those signs.”

Jamal Galvez

Jamal Galvez, Coordinator, Belize Manatee Conservation Program

“Last year we had thirty-four dead manatees for the entire year and these are only reported cases; there are many cases that go unreported.  Currently, we are at thirty-seven…well past. And the sad part and the most concern part is that the tourism season is just coming. So the way it looks is that there will be more that’s why we are trying to hold this workshop now, before the tourism season starts, so that these guys know what they are doing, know what they should be doing and that they may change their behaviors so that we do not have this issue continuing throughout the rest of the year.”

Since a first meeting between CZMAI, the B.T.B. and the Belize Port Authority, several buoys have been donated and installed in the vicinity of Haulover Creek. Additional Warning and No Wake signs will also be placed in the river for boaters in the area. 

Channel 5