Protecting Gentle Giants (Manatees)

by McNab Editorial Team

Manatees are some of the most interesting and unusual mammals in the world. With 800-1000 individuals, Belize is home to the highest known population of this species in the world due to its coastline being highly conducive to manatee life.


Photo Courtesy: Oceana

These playful and gentle giants, often described as “Sea Cows”, live in shallow and warm waters. Because of their slow metabolism, they spend half of their day resting and the other half slowly swimming in search of food.

Manatees can be found up and down the entire coast of Belize. However, the best area to spot them would be:

  • Northern Lagoon: located inside of the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary: located approximately seven miles from Belize City.
  • Gales Point Manatee Wildlife Sanctuary: located in the Southern Lagoon just offshore from the southern part of Belize District.

Manatees are still considered endangered in Belize as the threats and mortality rate of this species continues to increase rapidly each year. While they can live as long as humans, generally manatees live up to 30 years in the wild due to human activities that threaten them.

Poaching, which was once the main threat to this species, has been replaced by watercraft collisions, destruction of coastal habitat, entanglement in fishing gear, and garbage pollution.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, formerly Sea to Shore Alliance, has been working in Belize since 1997 to help study and protect the manatees. The organization focuses on conserving our world’s fragile coastal ecosystems and the endangered species that call them home.

The Importance of Manatees in Belize

It is critical to protect Belize’s manatee population as they are a part of the country’s culture, heritage, history, and provide ecosystem services that benefit coastal communities and other wildlife. Manatees are vital to Belize’s marine ecosystem as, primarily herbivores, they consume 10% of their weight daily. By processing this consumed vegetation and releasing it into the environment, it serves as a fertilizer for the environment and food for smaller species.

Many tourists flock to Belize’s waterways to experience these gentle giants in their natural habitat, thus helping the local economy by providing sustainable jobs and opportunities to many Belizeans. The Manatee is both a beautiful symbol of the culture in Belize and a graceful animal to witness in the wild.

For all of these reasons, it is important to continue our conservation efforts and educate the public to protect manatees by being careful in the water, and reducing our impact on their habitats in Belize and around the world.

Support Jamal Galvez, AKA the Manatee Man, who is doing his best to protect the manatees of Belize. His efforts include public education and outreach in local schools, manatee rescues and relocations, and collaborating with government and area officials to make stronger regulations in “no-wake zones” near Belize City. Let’s work together to save our manatees.

Written by Jamal Galvez

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