As the tourism industry slowly makes a comeback, the threat that the industry possess to the country’s manatee population remains visible. In an effort to protect these endangered mammals, the Ministry of the Blue Economy and the Clear Water Marine Aquarium Institute in Belize has partnered to bring awareness to their protection. Reporter Vejea Alvarez spoke to the Manatee Man himself, a driving force behind this project.
Vejea Alvarez, Love FM News: This is Jamal Galvez better known as the Manatee Man. Today he was out and about installing signs along the country’s coastline in an effort to bring awareness to the protection of Belize’s sea cows. Galvez says in recent months when the waters where these manatees feed were tourist free they had a chance to live in peace. But now that travel restrictions have been lifted and tourists are slowly trickling in the rate at which these mammals are dying is beginning to increase.
Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator , CWMAIB: “Before the pandemic we had been seeing manatee death rates continue to increase rapidly. Just before the pandemic I think the maximum that we’ve collected were forty five manatee incidents for the year which was significant amount considering the population. Whilst the pandemic started we’ve seen the numbers go down drastically from in 2020 I think we had around eleven or something like that. Currently we’re already at nine it’s starting to pick up again. Yesterday we actually removed a carcass of a large male, interestingly that male was a part of our long term study that we caught seventeen years ago in Gales Point Manatee. As a part of our study we actually catch these wild animals, look at their health, we install a microchip in their shoulder so that if they die we catch them again we know who they are.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love FM News: The marine conservationists says that he has dedicated his life to the protection of these majestic mammals of the sea. And the installation of these signs will help to save many of their lives.
Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator , CWMAIB: “What we’re doing is basically spreading awareness, giving information, making ourselves available to the public so when an incident does occur the people know who to call and what to do incase of any incident as sometimes the difference in our response time may be the difference between a dead manatee, dolphin or whale and a live one so it’s very important that people are able to access us readily and easily. So the goal is to place these signs across the coast from Belize to Toledo, up north as well, specifically in the Belize City area and in places where we know people congregate along the coast and in places where we’ve seen manatee incidents occur most predominantly.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love FM News: What type of information are you guys sharing on these signs ?
Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator , CWMAIB: “Basically who to call and what to do when you see a manatee. Who to call it has the information that you can use in terms of do not touch, do not try to take part of even if it’s a dead carcass as these animals are protected in Belize and internationally they’re endangered species so we want the public to be aware of that. Sometimes you may feel like pushing a manatee back in the water or holding it like you’re helping but you’re not knowledgeable enough or informed enough on how to do it and you may cause harm to the animal or yourself.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love FM News: The installation of the signs is a joint collaboration with the Ministry of the Blue Economy, the Fisheries Department and the Belize City Council. Councilor Michael Novelo who is responsible for parks and playgrounds in the city says that the protection of the manatees is one that CitCo takes seriously.
Michael Novelo, Councilor, Belize City Council: “Well it is a partnership long before my time. As I was informed shortly before I came here that the Belize City Council always assists this organization in any way they can. I think we are the ones who always render the backhoe if I’m not mistaken so we always support. So when Mr.Galvez called to install these signs we were hastily ready to so.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love FM News: The park where the signs were installed today has been adopted by the Ministry of the Blue Economy. Chief Executive Officer Kennedy Carrillo says the ensuring these mammals are protected is the responsibility of her ministry to treasure the nations natural wealth.
Kennedy Carrillo, CEO, Ministry of Blue Economy and Civil Aviation: “This is extremely important to us. Most recently with some of the amendments that have been made to the fisheries act now we have responsibility directly for the manatee and it is our responsibility to ensure that we raise awareness in terms of the type of risky activities that sometimes take place that cause us to lose these precious mammals .We have seen the images very often on Facebook in terms of how they suffer because of irresponsible persons out on the water in terms of these skiffs driving especially in areas where they know very well that the manatees are and so we call on everyone to keep it in mind.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love FM News: Twenty signs that are equipped with a scannable QR code will be placed along the country’s coastline with a total of seven in Belize City.