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May 30, 2008

Manatee population healthy but future not assured

Story PictureBelize has long been regarded as home to the region’s largest population of those curious creatures known as manatees. And while many scientists have documented that prolific presence, the public does not always gain access to that information. Today marine scientist Caryn Self-Sullivan shared her years of research on manatees in the waters surrounding Swallow Caye, the Drowned Cayes and Gallows Point. In her public presentation Self reported that the manatee population remains strong but the gentle mammals are up against a relentless opponent.

Caryn Self-Sullivan, Marine Scientist
“I think right now we have a strong population using the Drowned Cayes and if the Drowned Cayes is probably a safe haven because there’s not a lot of development out there yet, they have plenty of resources there. They have some access to a little bit of fresh water, they have nice safe places to rest and have babies and rare their young. And there’s plenty of good sea grass out there for eating. The probability of seeing them is, like I said, thirty-seven percent in that area. If I go to any spot and wait for thirty minutes I’m highly likely to encounter at least one manatee.”

Stewart Krohn
“But Caryn you say that the reason it’s so healthy is because there hasn’t been much development, yet we see proposals, we see land grabs, we see plans for massive development in the area. Can the manatees and the development co-exist in that area around Belize City?”

Caryn Self-Sullivan
“We just don’t know. Are we going to take the risk of losing this population, destroying their habitat, to see whether or not they’re there? This is a special resource that Belize has and we have an obligation to work to protect this resource just like we have an obligation to protect our great barrier reef. What happens when you have development is you have mangroves cut, you have increased siltation in the sea grass beds. Once the sea grass is silted then we don’t have as much sea grass for them to forge on. Once you have boats coming and going on a daily basis they don’t have those nice safe areas to rest and rare their young. So they have two choices; they can stay there and attempt to live with all of this development or they can go elsewhere and find other resources that haven’t been developed. But at the rate Belize is developing right now, pretty soon those resources may run out.”

Echoing Self’s concern from a more personal perspective was Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia, a man whose tireless efforts to preserve manatees led to the creation of the Swallow Caye Marine Reserve. Looking at the continued dredging and filling of the area’s mangrove Cayes has Heredia feeling far from optimistic.

Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia, Founder, S.C.W.S.
“Some days I sit down and I cry and when I hear the news I watch it in television and I say to myself, to the good lord, to pray that this don’t happen.”

For more information on Caryn Self-Sullivan’s work she can be contacted at caryn@sirenian.org.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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