On Saturday evening at around 5:30, passengers returning to Belize City via Caye Caulker Water Taxi heard a loud bang as they were entering the Harbor near the Fort Street Tourism Village. According to eyewitness reports, after the bang, the vessel stopped briefly, then moved at a significantly slower pace into the harbor.
One of the passengers contacted the Belize Port Authority, and when a search was conducted, a mature manatee was found dead in the no wake zone. Well Port State Control Officer Martin Garcia along with Manatee Expert Jamal Galves held a press conference today where they spoke about the incident and the implications it has for the Antillean Manatee population in Belize.
Jamal Galvez - Manatee Expert
"Was known that the boat has hot something. The passengers on the boat felt it as well. We always encourage boat operators travelling on the waterways or within areas the Manatees are. If you suspect or if you hit a Manatee please report it, it give us an opportunity to go out there and investigate the situation. Perhaps it's an animal injured and it's something that we can do to help. This animal by no means would have survive the impact that it had. The chop wounds that you have seen in the photographs are pretty intense - almost taking the tail apart, which damage major vessels - I assume that animal may have bled out in a matter of time and died almost instantly. We haven't received any call from the boat captain or anybody else on the boat which was quite surprising. It was a nice gesture of a passenger to have reached out to us to report the incident. That passenger had no interest in the situation, she is just a tourist in Belize. We encourage all passengers riding on these vessels to report these acts. We cannot tolerate these kinds of acts and it's not something I would like to share with the public - I wouldn't want the public to see a Manatee I this manner because you would want to see a nice quite Manatee living in the wild and going about their business, but it is the reality of the situation and it's what we are facing, so people needs to see what it is and to be aware of what's happening in our country. All Belizeans should be aware of it. All Belizeans should take ownership to it. It's something that we recognize for country worldwide and it's something that we should be proud of and we should protect. No wake zones are not that long of a distance, these guys can take their time to go their destination in time."
While Belize is the last stronghold for the Antillean Manatee, only about 1000 are left. The death rate for these animals has been on the rise from 11 in 2009 to 27 in 2013. This is the 23rd manatee killed this year, and the majority of deaths have been from watercraft collisions.
We contacted a representative from the Caye Caulker Watertaxi who said that the captain of the vessel did hear a bang, but because the water was dirty, he could not see the animal. The collision damaged the vessel which is now being repaired, but it wasn't until later in the night that they heard that the boat had hit a manatee.
During the press conference Port State Control Officer, Martin Garcia pointed out that while harming a manatee can result in a 500 to 1000 dollar fine, and a 6 month prison sentence, not reporting a collision or damage to a vessel can result in a 15 thousand dollar fine. The forestry department is planning to take legal action.