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May 5, 2022

Clearwater Marine Research Institute takes on Manatee Aerial Survey

MAR Fund is subsidizing a survey to determine the abundance of the Antillean Manatee species across the region. The survey is done by air and it commenced in Belize on Wednesday. Researchers will be spending the next few days flying over the coast of Belize to gather data on the specie. Surveys of this nature date back to 1979 in Belize. Over the years, data gathered from this research have presented legal justification for the establishment of the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Southern Lagoon Sanctuary. The last aerial survey was conducted a decade ago. Since then, the technology and methodology have evolved. Researchers are able to determine the manatee population estimation in Belize with greater precision.  We spoke to Jamal Galvez, the Program Coordinator at Clear Water Marine Aquarium Research Institute, and Nicole Gomez the Country Director for Wildlife Conservation Society about the survey.


Jamal Galvez

Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute

“This survey particularly is critically important for the conservation of the species going forward. It will inform us as to where we are right now and where we have come from, comparing numbers of the past, and what are the initiatives we need to establish to try and safeguard the species into the future? So, it will be very important in terms of making sound scientific informed decisions into the future. We have been seeing a lot of manatees in areas we expected to see them, especially in Gales Point and Southern Lagoon. We were impressed with the sightings there, not surprised but impressed. The Placencia Lagoon, the numbers are still there. But, there are concerns as it relates to the Placencia Lagoon as there as some threats surrounding that lagoon. We are hoping that these types of surveys will be thing that will help to push the protection of such areas like those.”


Nicole Auil- Gomez

Nicole Auil- Gomez, Country Director, W.C.S. Belize

“Another site that was also deemed important, which is yet to be declared is the Placencia Lagoon. That is probably one of the most important sites along with Southern Lagoon for manatees in the country. The last national aerial surveys were done in 2012 and 2014. One of the things we did, the analysis of early data pointed to we needed to have more robust methods of determining abundance, which is how many manatees do we really have. The highest count, we had a high count of three hundred and eighteen. We had another count of five hundred and three in 2012 that was the 2012 survey which included the Turneffe Atoll. The only Atoll we surveyed that is the only atoll you would expect to find manatees. What happened with the aerial survey data analysis and techniques, they really have moved forward in Florida. They do a lot of surveys all the time. And, they are improving their data analysis. They recently changed and found a method to use for these animals in clear water and dark water to determine abundance.”

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