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.