|Jill Hepp shows manatee bones to LIFE students
In a national effort to raise awareness for the plight of the threatened West
Indian manatee native to Belize, Coast Zone Management Authority and
Institute(CZMA/I) held their annual "Manatee Week" this week. In San Pedro, the
week was organized with the assistance of volunteers from Green Reef, the local
marine conservation organization, and Saga Society, the island humane society.
This week was designed to help spread information and build concern about the
status of this unique marine mammal.
Indian manatee is a familiar site to many tour guides and fishermen who frequent
the waters near Ambergris Caye. This large mammal is often found around mangrove
cayes and rivers where there is abundant food supplies. This animal feeds
primarily on the sea grass beds found in shallow bays and lagoons. An adult
manatee usually weighs around 1000 pounds and can eat almost 10-15% of its body
weight in grass each day. That's almost 100 pounds of sea grass every day!
Manatees are slow to reproduce, giving birth to a calf every two to five years.
Mothers nurse their young and a calf may stay with its mother for up to two
years. Manatees have no natural predators, yet the number of manatees found in
Belize and worldwide have declined steadily during the last several decades. The
last national aerial survey conducted by CZMA/I during March of this year
observed a total of 292 manatees.
greatest threat to manatees is from the activities of humans. Manatees inhabit
the shallow bays and rivers on the coast of Belize and near many of the offshore
cayes. This area has a significant amount of high-speed boat traffic. It can be
difficult to spot manatees, which often feed and rest just below the surface of
the water. Deaths or injuries from collisions with boat hulls or propellers are
significant sources of manatee mortality. Loss of habitat, poaching,
pollution/litter and harassment are also other human-induced factors which can
lead to higher rates of mortality.
In order to
protect these "gentle giants of the sea" from being pushed closer to extinction,
Belize is working to promote a combination of environmental education, research,
rehabilitation and conservation. Activities such as Manatee Week help to
increase awareness of this animal's physiology, habitat requirements and
threatened status to a large number of individuals. Specialized training for
manatee tour guides are also conducted in an effort to teach them about ways to
view manatees without disturbing them.
annual aerial surveys to gain a count of the total number of manatees found in
the country to try to determine if the populations are decreasing, increasing or
remaining stable. The Belize Marine Mammal Stranding Network (BMMSN) is a group
of concerned citizens, scientists and veterinarians who work to rehabilitate
injured animals or perform necropsies of dead animals in an effort to better
understand the dangers to manatees. "Woody"(currently in Sarteneja, Belize) and
"Hercules" (currently in Xcaret, Mexico) are two manatee calves that the BMMSN
has worked diligently to rehabilitate this year and plan to release back into
Protecting the habitat of these animals
is especially important and the "Friends of Swallow Caye" are working to
establish this mangrove caye and surrounding area as a wildlife sanctuary. If
the proposal for the wildlife sanctuary is approved by the Ministry of Natural
Resources and the Cabinet, the Friends of Swallow Caye plan to hire a warden to
control activities and boat speeds in this area that manatees are known to
The following list is provided by the
Save the Manatee Club which works to protect the manatee populations in Florida
and around the world.
* When operating a boat, constantly be on the lookout for signs
indicating the presence or habitat of manatees (seagrass beds; a snout, back,
flipper or tail breaking the surface; a smooth swirl on the water's surface
(created when a manatee below the surface dives deeper).
How to Behave in a Manatee Habitat:
boating, try to stay in channels and deeper water. Avoid sea grass beds.
Wear polarized sunglasses. They eliminate glare and enable you to see just below
the water's surface.
* Steer clear of manatee concentrations.
harassing a manatee. For example: look, but do not touch manatees; do not
actively pursue or chase a manatee; never poke, prod or stab a manatee; do not
isolate or single out an individual manatee from its group.
discarding fishing line in the water. It can get tangled in aquatic plants that
* Help keep the sea and rivers clean by not littering.
Or help even more by organizing a clean-up campaign.
* If you see a dead,
injured, sick or tagged manatee, or one being harassed, contact the Manatee
Researcher at Coastal Zone at 02-30719.
Green Reef remains
active and is beginning a variety of new projects. For more information on their
activities please contact Green Reef at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 026-3254,
extension 243. Watch for more information concerning their work in future
editions of the San Pedro Sun.