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Jul 8, 2015

Revising the Manatee Recovery Plan

Will Belize’s manatees get the help that they need? For a very long time we have reported on the cases of manatee injury and deaths. Over the past few years it has become a worrisome issue and this year alone it seems that we will break the record for most recorded manatee deaths. Local proponents of manatee protection say that action must be taken now to protect the population within our waters. The second day of a two-day event focused on manatee protection was underway in Belize City when they were called outside to see a manatee floating in the waters. Andrea Polanco was there and has this report.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Today, the Coastal Zone Management Authority and its partner organizations started the second day of workshop geared at devising strategies for stronger protection of manatees. But what they weren’t expecting was for a dead manatee to crash their meeting. While very sad and ironic, the death of the manatee today perhaps underscores the immediate need for measures to be implemented to protect this endangered species. Just after nine this morning, a young male manatee washed up behind the coastal zone management building. He had been chopped several times by a boat’s propeller.

 

Jamal Galvez

Jamal Galvez, Coordinator, Belize Manatee Conservation Program

“It is sad, ironic but sad that they came here today while we were actually sitting in the conference room discussing measures that we want to put in place for the next five years if you want to protect these endangered species as watch them die off weekly and this guy shows up here with major chop wounds. It’s kinda ironic and has some positive to it in that people in there are actually seeing what we are talking about. Every other week we are talking about these issues. It is a male; an adult male, still young though, not an old male. It has some serious, serious chop wounds. No animal would survive those chop wounds. The chop wounds penetrated into the cavity, broken bones I can see even without carrying out an examination. The tail almost completely taken off. The animal would have probably died within minutes of being hit nuh and coincidentally it washed up at our work site. I cannot exaggerate anymore to boaters for them to slow down because these guys are gentle moving animals.”

 

And its deaths like this one that has moved conservationists to advocate for greater measures. One place where that starts is with the updating of the manatee recovery plan. It has been over fifteen years since it has last been revised.

 

Chantal Clarke Samuels

Chantal Clarke Samuels, C.E.O., Coastal Zone Management Authority

“The purpose is to update an existing Manatee Recovery Plan. The last time the Coastal Zone Management led this process it was in 1998. So, as you can imagine, this plan is long overdue and what we want to do is to address the threats that are facing manatees and to look at strategies that we had put together in 1998 to do a rapid assessment of the progress of meeting those strategies back then and to look at the circumstances today and what new strategies we need to put forward in order to address shortcomings in our management.”

 

Management that is urgently needed for specie that is extinct in other parts of the world. Today, Belize has the healthiest population in this region, but that may not be for very long. Last year alone, thirty four manatees were killed. Today, halfway into the year, we have surpassed that number.

 

Chantal Clarke Samuels

“The Antillean Manatee is an endangered species on the IUCN red list and in the wider Caribbean region there is an estimated population of two thousand five hundred individuals remaining. Of this amount, Belize arguably has the largest population with one thousand individuals estimated in our coastal waters, so if we don’t act now to protect these animals, if we don’t act now to protect the habitats that support these animals we run the risk of having this specie become extinct.”

 

Jamal Galvez

“This means a lot to me. I mean like you mentioned, we’ve been advocating for so many years about these issues and it is finally being addressed. I personally fear that I may live to actually see these animals go extinct if it continues the way it is going at the moment. That is currently number thirty five, I think, we are half way through the year and last year we had thirty four. This is a major concern for these endangered species.”

 

So to prevent that risk, C.E.O. Samuels and partners at the OAK Foundation enlisted the help of technical experts from Mexico to chart a way forward.

 

Chantal Clarke-Samuels

“They bring a wealth of technical expertise and experience from navigating a similar process in Mexico. We use a specific software, the Merari Software, and they introduced a conceptual model so that we can look at what our conservation targets are in terms of the species itself and the habitats that support manatees, and to input all of our rich technical discussions from the national manatee working group and that helped us to prioritize our strategy. So, do we focus on water craft collisions, or do we focus on enforcement, or if we say we have to engage a wider audience then how do we disseminate targeted messages? So those are some of the things that came out. Today we want to focus on the result chain if we are saying these are the strategies that are needed to address manatee protection and conservation issues, what do we hope to see by the end of five years?”

 

Jamal Galvez

“We are looking at key areas where manatees hangout and what is it that they actually do in these areas and the threat that are in those areas that affect these animals. So, we are limiting with the threats; boats, coastal development, dredging, gillnets is a problem as well because people do catch manatees in the nets to hunt, all those issues we are trying to see how we can carefully address them and with educational awareness, as well as with laws and regulations to be protected by the government because the laws are not strong enough to protect these animals at this state, nuh.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Andrea Polanco.

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