Today's fundraiser to protect our manatees. With Manatee Man Jamal Galves. On Open Your Eyes, 20 minute video.
Things are looking up for endangered Antillean manatee, but the work is not done. This year we are seeing a slight reversal over previous trends. At least part of this can be attributed to the hard work of staff and volunteers of the Sea to Shore Alliance and our parthners, who along with the people of Belize are committed to protecting them here, in their last stronghold.
Our efforts include outreach and education on the importance of these gentle giants to the ecosystem and our economy of Belize, workshops with tour guides to minimize the impact of curious visitors, increased no-wake signage and our ongoing efforts to rescue and rehabilitate injured manatees.
Of course this work relies on the generosity of sponsors. So for the second year in a row we’ll be hosting “Cocktails with the Manatees,” an evening of pleasant socialization around this important cause.
It will be held on Saturday October 15th, 2016, from 7:00pm to midnight at the Hour Bar Field on Princess Margaret Drive. Admission fee is $30, entertained by the GillHarry Band, drinks and light food will be on sale along with raffles and live action to raise funds to protect our manatees.Come and join us.
Saturday, October 15 at 8 PM - 11 PM, Hour Bar Belize
1 Princess Margaret Drive, Belize City
Environmentalists Work to Save Manatees and Others from Stranding
Every so often there are news reports about manatees getting caught up in boat propellers, or swallowing garbage that chokes them, or having other kinds of distress that causes them to become stranded on land. What you may not know is that it happens more often than we think and there are hazards associated with it. A Belize Marine Mammal Stranding Network is established, since 2005, to tend to emergencies involving manatees and, less commonly, sea turtles and dolphins. But it has been dormant for a while, and the group of organizations who are now members met under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Belize City for three days of training on how best to respond to and coordinate rescues of these gentle sea creatures. Aaron Humes attended and learned the do’s and don’ts of taking care of stranded sea mammals.
Aaron Humes, Reporting
Manatees, dolphins and sea turtles are some of the gentlest creatures in the deep – don’t mess with them, and usually they won’t mess with you. But sometimes, interaction between humans and these creatures is unavoidable and occasionally violent. And that is where the Belize Marine Mammal Stranding Network comes in to pick up the pieces. It’s monitoring shows that fatalities involving manatees have been on the rise in recent years, and public cooperation is needed to reverse that trend.
Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Sea to Shore Alliance
“There has been drastic increases in manatee mortalities; for instance in 2015, they had forty-four dead manatees, the year before it was thirty something. And in 2016, however, there was a decrease, mainly due to the increased effort we have been putting in monitoring boats, working with tour operators. We have just been trying to put methods in place to try and alleviate some of the threats that have been presented to these animals; however, we already have fourteen for this year, mainly because we lost a lot of effort that we put in last year due to the hurricane – the signs have gone down. The efforts need to be re-instated again, so we are going to increase, put the signs back in place and try to work with these boat operators to get ahold of the situation because fourteen already is quite a steep number to have racked up in such a short time.”
The three-day workshop underway in Belize City has the purpose of re-establishing the Network, which now involves N.G.O.’s in outposts from Corozal to Toledo. Biologist Kirah Castillo, a founding member who works in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve off Ambergris Caye, speaks to its importance.
Kirah Castillo, Biologist, Hol Chan Marine Reserve
“The Network has certainly helped to add support ot the capacity of different organizations that are member organizations to address stranding issues. What has happened is that it went dormant for a while – while the members were still active in their different organizations, we haven’t been active as a group. So what this workshop is going to do is to help us see how we can start back working together; how to strengthen the Network again – because it still exists – but how to start putting in the same things we had in the past; who to respond, who to call, and the response procedures.”
Visiting trainers from the U.S., Andy Garrett of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Dr. Claire Simeone of the Marine Mammal Center speak to the various causes of stranding and why caution is needed in handling these innocent creatures.
Andy Garrett, Biologist/Trainer
“Particularly with manatees and dolphins, sometimes you have manatees and dolphins that become orphaned – separated from their mom for some reason and become distressed for that reason; dolphins can also ingest things, manatees can ingest things that can cause them to strand, also, depending on boats being near manatees, they can hit manatees and cause a stranding as well.”
Dr. Claire Simeone, Marine Veterinarian/Trainer
“If a marine mammal is on land, that would be abnormal since they should be spending their time in the water and so often, animals that are on land are sick for some reason and so, if you push them back into the water then unfortunately they are just going to become sicker and come back up onto land. So it is important to notify the Belize Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and then they send out their colleagues to assess the situation. Because these mammals can have diseases that can be transferred to humans; so we want to make sure that humans are safe as well.”
Ultimately, says Galvez, the crime lies not in the accidental collision, but in failing to render aid.
“It’s best to leave it, correct; but call it in, let us be aware of it. If you hit a manatee with a boat it’s not a crime, to hit a manatee with a boat – accidents do happen. We cannot monitor boats where manatees are at the same time, so calling us gives us an opportunity to go out and actually find the animal and perhaps the animal is injured – a minor injury that can be fixed, and we have cases that successfully [have] animals that have been rehabilitated; but if you leave the animal out there with an injury, there’s no aid, it leaves it to suffer and eventually die.”
Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.
The number to reach the network is 615-3838. Manatees, dolphins, some whales and sea turtles are all protected under the laws of Belize and any attempt to profit from them is a crime. On Thursday and Friday the workshop will move to practical exercises involving work with dead manatees and dolphins.
'Sound' research shows slower boats may cause manatees more harm than good
Slower boat speeds reduce risks to manatees. Or do they? Not exactly, according to new research. In fact, the very laws enacted to slow down boats in manatee habitats may actually be doing more harm than good. Slowing down boats makes it more difficult for manatees to detect and locate approaching boats. An innovative alerting device is proving to deliver a better solution.
About 100 manatees are killed each year by boats, making it the leading cause of death for this species. Not only are they hit frequently, they are hit repeatedly and have the scars to prove it.
Credit: Florida Atlantic University
Slower boat speeds reduce risks to manatees. Or do they? Not exactly, according to research conducted at Florida Atlantic University. In fact, the very laws enacted to slow down boats in manatee habitats may actually be doing more harm than good. However, an innovative alerting device is proving to deliver a better solution.
About 100 manatees are killed each year by boats, making it the leading cause of death for this species. Not only are they hit frequently, they are hit repeatedly and have the scars to prove it. It is often thought that's because these gentle giants move too slowly to get out of harm's way or perhaps they are not smart enough to know better.
Not true according to Edmund Gerstein, Ph.D., director of marine mammal research in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and his wife Laura, who have spent the last 20 years researching manatees to get to the root of this problem and to dispel these myths. What they have discovered is that manatees have difficulty hearing and locating low frequency sounds like the humming of an idling engine or a slow moving boat. Shallow and murky waters further exacerbate this problem and make boats both acoustically and visually invisible to unwary manatees.
"The idea of slowing down boats to protect manatees might make us feel better, but it has direct acoustic consequences in shallow water that place manatees at greater risk of collisions," said Edmund Gerstein. "While a slow speed zone may reduce the chance of death during a collision, they have not mitigated the number of collisions that kill and may have actually increased the number of non-fatal injuries."
Slowing down boats makes it more difficult for manatees to detect and locate approaching boats, while increasing the transect times or how long it takes for boats to actually pass through manatee habitats. When manatees are unable to reliably detect approaching boats, increasing time of exposure increases the risk of collisions.
"The increase in multiple propeller and boat scar patterns we are seeing on surviving animals is consistent with the implementation of slow speed zones in their habitats," said Edmund Gerstein. "Today, we have living manatees that have been hit dozens of times some with as much as 50 different scar patterns from boat encounters."
After years of exhaustive testing of manatees' hearing abilities, the Gersteins uncovered that these marine mammals are good at detecting and locating high-frequency noises, specifically between 16,000 and 18,000 kilohertz. Unfortunately, the dominant frequencies from a slow moving boat range from 0.05 to 0.8 kilohertz and manatees are not adapted to hear these sounds.
Armed with this important information, these researchers came up with an innovative solution -- the Manatee Alerting Device (MAD). This alerting device projects a low intensity, highly directional narrow band of sound directly in front of approaching boats. The selected signals exploit the manatees' best hearing and localization abilities and is only audible to manatees in the direct path of an approaching vessel.
The Gersteins tested their device in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge surrounding the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. They used synchronized acoustic buoys and video cameras to measure the distance at which the manatees would flee from an approaching boat with and without their alerting device. The study was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Defense and Legacy Resource Management Program, and the results were dramatic.
Without the alarm, 95 percent of the wild manatees did not change their behavior as the boat approached them. They did not respond or avoid the boat, until it came so close, it was forced to veer away to avoid hitting them. With the alarm it was the complete opposite; 95 percent of the manatees moved away from the oncoming vessel. On average, the distance the manatees fled the vessels with the alarm was about 20 meters as compared to 6 meters without the alarm. The researchers point out that it is actually in the manatees' repertoire to move away from the boats when they are loud enough above the prevailing background noise for them to reliably hear.
"The Gerstein's field tests have clearly demonstrated the efficacy of the novel parametric manatee alerting device they developed," said Ata Sarajedini, Ph.D., dean of FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. "This acoustic solution is arming manatees with sensory awareness and should be an important component in the conservation of one of Florida's most beloved marine mammals as well as required equipment for boaters."
About 20 years ago the Gerstein's along Dr. Joseph Blue (now deceased), director of the the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Undersea Reference Detachment and Naval Undersea Warfare Center, established Leviathan Legacy Inc. and patented the alerting device. The MAD should cost about $120 once it becomes commercially available. Edmund Gerstein notes they have a similar parametric acoustic device designed for the bows of large ships to reduce the risk of ship strikes and watercraft collisions with whales and other marine animals.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida manatee is a native species found in many of Florida's waterways. First listed as a federal endangered species in 1966, the Florida manatee population has grown to over 6,000 animals today. Florida manatees were first protected through Florida State Law in 1893. Manatees are protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act (§379.2431(2), Florida Statutes) and are federally protected by both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
As the sun rises, the Manatee Team rises as well to start the first feeds for the six manatees in rehabilitation at Wildtracks. We appreciate our manatees in November - Manatee Awareness Month...and also appreciate our Manatee volunteers, who go beyond the expected to ensure that these manatees are able to return to the wild.
The fight against time to save the Antillean manatee
Positive strides made over the past two decades to protect and increase the threatened Antillean manatee population in Belize may have once again been undermined over more recent years by human interference.
Estimates are that there are fewer than 2,500 adult Antillean manatees (Trichechus manatus manatus) are left in the wild and their numbers are on a sharp decline – the foremost reason: violent collisions with boats due to reckless boat operators speeding through their natural habitat.
Belize is home to the largest remaining population of Antillean manatees found along the entire coast of Central America and the Antilles. These gentle sea mammals must surface every few minutes in order to breathe and that is when their lives become most threatened. They are fun creatures to observe in the water because they are so agile that people have seen them doing rolls, somersaults, and swimming upside-down!
Despite their size and stubbly snout, manatees are slow-moving and do not have complex predator fleeing skills because as they evolved over time, they did so in locations that had no natural predators such as killer whales and large sharks.
But human interaction continues to be the deadliest threats to the survival of these marine mammals, with all other causes, including entanglement in gill nets, hunting, and habitat destruction, also being a result of human activity.
Habitat destruction occurs with the advent of more factories and pollution, as well as chemicals that are dumped into the waters where manatees live. This can result in bacteria and parasites developing that destroy these animals in large numbers.
Such environmental changes have also led to global warming. This can make it hard for the manatee to find food in their natural habitat. Some of the water areas dry up too and they end up stranded. As a result they will starve to death because they aren’t able to navigate without enough water.
What Belize is doing
Awareness campaigns about manatee protection, especially in critical areas where manatee deaths are caused the most, such as Belize City and southern Belize, are being carried out by Sea to Shore Alliance, which works with the Ministry of Forestry and Fisheries, the Belize Tourism Board, the Belize Port Authority, tour guides, boat operators, schools and concerned residents.
While enforcement resources are stretched out thinly, Sea to Shore’s manatee researcher, Jamal Galves told the Reporter that the organization and the enforcement agencies will continue to carry out patrols to ensure that boaters comply with the regulations in place.
“Yearly tour guides and boaters training to keep up with the increase in the tourism sector. Education and awareness in schools and public places will be complimented with research activities such as a manatee health assessment, radio-tracking and monitoring using drones, conducting boat surveys, and lobbying for better protection for this species are being done,” Galves said.
Manatee Facts You Didn’t Know
Manatees are herbivores that feed on over 60 species of aquatic plants in fresh and salt water. When the tide is high enough, they will also feed on grasses and leaves, and will eat some fish and small invertebrates. They graze for five or more hours per day, consuming between 4 and 10 percent of their body weight.
Manatees can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and even though they traverse salt and fresh waters, they can maintain the correct nutritional balance in their bodies through their kidneys to regulate salt concentrations.
Manatees have low metabolic rates and minimal fat protection from cold water, so they stick to water that is 60 degrees or warmer. Even though they may look fat and insulated, their large bodies are mostly made up of their stomach and intestines.
The closest living relatives of manatees are elephants. Manatees evolved from the same land animals as elephants over 50 million years ago.
Manatees, like their elephant relatives, continuously replace their teeth throughout their lives.
Manatee brains are smooth and the ratio of their brain to their body size is the lowest of any mammal. They may not be as clever as dolphins, but manatees can learn basic tasks, are extremely sensitive to touch and can differentiate colors.
Female manatees usually have one calf every two to five years and the calf nurses for two years. The mother’s teats are found where the forward limbs meet the body. Calves also can start nibbling on plants at only a few weeks old.