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Jul 8, 2019

A Workshop for Manatees’ Safety

Today, the Clear Water Marine Research Institute, along with the Port Authority of Belize and the Forestry Department, held a one-day workshop with boaters and tour guides to talk manatee safety and protection, as well as boating regulations and penalties. According to long time manatee conservationist, Jamal Galvez, the purpose of the event is to sensitize tour guides and boat operators on dos and don’ts when dealing with manatees or operating within manatee zones.  The certification workshop kicked off today in Belize City, and similar events will be held Caye Caulker, Placencia, San Pedro, Seine Bight and Monkey River. A News Five crew stopped in at the event in Belize City to speak with Galvez about this initiative. Reporter Andrea Polanco reports.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The West Indian Manatee is an endangered species, with a dwindling numbers world-wide. Belize, however, has one of the healthiest populations of this mammal. Conservationists say that there are around one thousand manatees in Belize’s waters. While this species is protected under the Wild Protection Act, manatees are still being killed by speeding boats. So, to sensitize users of the waterways, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute held a workshop today with boat captains and tour guides in Belize City.

 

Jamal Galvez

Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute

“It provides them factual information that they can use on their tours so that these tour guides are giving tourists a wonderful tour that is informative; a tour that provides them with knowledge that they can understand the species as well. We also talked to them how to boat in manatee areas; what are the best practices to carry out tourism in a manatee area in a sustainable manner to make it more eco friendly. So, it is to use that so that they can do a tour in the best possible way and it doesn’t impact manatees and they can benefit from it sustainably.”

 

The West Indian Manatee is important in many ways to Belize.  This animal adds to the country’s biological diversity; contributes to the health of our ecosystem and forms part of our tourism offering, as well as our cultural heritage.

 

Jamal Galvez

“Belize has the last strong hold of this population and there is no country that leads us in this. We need to protect this because we are known for his, like we are known for the second largest barrier reef. So, it is important for us because for tourists who want to see this species of manatee, Belize is the first option because it is one of the only places where you can see this species in its wild habitat; seeing its wild behavior and understanding its wild tendency. So, it is very critical in terms of biodiversity and manatees are a very important part of the ecosystem. They provide nutrients for fishes and crustaceans that we in terms feed on. That keeps our ecosystem flowing and balanced and if we take out manatees out of the ecosystem it can be detrimental not just for manatees but for many other species and including the tourism destination that we sell Belize as. But the manatee numbers are going down as we continue to pick them up as carcasses in boat strikes. I don’t know how many more we need to lose for legislation to be put in place to protect this species.”

 

The manatees are commonly spotted around Belize City, Gales Point, Placencia, Seine Bight, Monkey River and other coastal communities. Most manatee deaths have been recorded in the Belize District because there is a large population of the animal in the Belize River. Jamal Galvez says they are lobbying for the protection of this area.

 

Jamal Galvez

“Belize City is the hot spot for manatees in regards to incidents because the area has a lot of manatees specifically around the river because manatees need fresh water, so they tend to congregate around this area but this is a heavily trafficked area due to tourism activities and very little regulation in place, patrols, monitoring and enforcement are lacking as well. So, it is a lot of unregulated boating activities that result into manatees being hit by boats. Placencia continues to be a critical area for manatees, specifically the Placencia lagoon, which is not protected. That area is very important to manatees and a lot of other species it serves as an important habit.  We need to start looking in terms of long term and stop thinking short term because these species will go extinct if we are thinking in that short term mind frame. We need better protection for this area, especially the Belize River. I have been lobbying to get protection for a while. The area is not only an area for manatees but it is actually the place we get our water from but there is no protection there. You can actually go and do whatever you want in that river.”

 

To Galvez’s disappointment, not many boaters are attending today’s workshop. But he says that they have seen small gains through the awareness efforts over the years.

 

Jamal Galvez

“We continue to emphasize, advertise, bring awareness and ask that boat captains show up to these workshops because it is critical for them to get the information because they are the ones driving the boat and they are ones breaching most of these regulations. There is not a mandate in place and so we continue to lobby the government to see if they can put something in place to see because every year we are going to continue to have this workshop and we are not going to make as much impact if we don’t have the relevant individuals here. We’re seeing some positive indications; small steps in the right direction. We are not seeing as close to what I expect it would have been over the years. However, having the workshop every year kind seems repetitive but it also serves as a refresher. I have seen six months after the workshop everybody is in compliance, but that six months after that nobody is in compliance or limited people are in compliance, so it shows that it needs to be done.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

 

Galvez says that the series of workshop are being funded by MarFund, Colombus Zoo, Harvest Caye and other donors.


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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