Study to determine size of manatee population underway
Manatees bring environmental benefits to Belize by supporting aquatic ecosystems and economic benefits as a major tourist attraction. But these majestic water mammals are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Jamal Galves, Program Coordinator at Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI), told Love News this week that a study to determine the manatee population in the region is currently going through validation. Galves, known as Belize’s Manatee Man, said that study was completed last year but the findings will take some time to be published. He said that the preliminary estimates are encouraging but give rise to serious concerns about protected areas for manatees.
Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator at Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI): “Last year, we finished the National Aerial survey, which was a regional survey done along with Mexico and Guatemala as well to get an idea for the population in the region. These things take a while. The process takes a while for it to be validated. It has to be peer reviewed before it’s put out there but based on my experience during the surveys, the numbers were good but I don’t want to allude to the results as yet. But based on my observation we saw manatees in areas that we hadn’t seen high density in a long time. Like for instance in the Port Honduras area, the Punta Gorda, the Toledo district, we saw high numbers there. We continue to see high numbers in places like Belize River and the Placencia Lagoon which lacks protection and it’s unbelievable to me that we cannot secure protection for these areas.”
There are currently three protected areas for manatees in Belize, the Gales Point Manatee Wildlife Sanctuary, the Northern Lagoon, and the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, but Galves says that these are not enough. He stressed that he has been lobbying for years for certain areas to be designated as protective zones for manatees. Galves said that doing so would not only be beneficial to the manatees but to people as well.
Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator at Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI): “One of the things that I’ve been fighting for a very long time protection for the Belize River not just for manatees, remember that’s the place that we get the water from it’s a human aspect to it and I would want to think that it’s easily sold that we know that fresh water, clean water is not an infinite resource. We see what’s happening in Orange Walk in terms of the river there. If we do not secure these areas we’re going to end up jeopardizing not just wildlife but human livelihoods as well and I continue to lobby for that. The Placencia Lagoon continues to remain unprotected and continuously to be one of the most important areas for manatees but many other marine species, the residents and community members they share that same sentiments and do want protection as well so there’s not community objection so I believe that it’s an easy area to get protected and it’s one that the government should definitely put on their radar to try and address because we want to protect these areas while there’s still things there to protect. You don’t want to protect it after everything’s gone and then you’re protecting nothing. So we continue to work in partnership with the Government of Belize and to try and get these areas secured, not just for now, but for the next generation to be able to have access to clean fresh water and for other marine species to be able to bask in those environments as well.”
Galves noted that there were two recorded manatee deaths this week, which further emphasizes the need for greater protection for the species. He stressed that increased manatee density in known areas should not be matched by increased deaths, as it will not bode well for the species which is barely holding on.