Annually, March 29th is observed as Manatee Appreciation Day. Belize has a relatively healthy population of manatees and many folks get to spot these sea cows in their natural habitat occasionally. Of course, I’m the exception. I haven’t seen a single manatee in the wild in my entire life, and it’s not for trying!
Nevertheless, I love these gentle mammals and on their day, I’ll share some facts to raise awareness and help protect them so that more people get the chance to see a manatee in the wild! (Including me, someday…)
• Belize is home to the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), an endangered species, and they are protected by law. They play an important part in our country, from contributing to Belize’s rich biological diversity to providing a diverse opportunity for tourism.
• As a protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act, No. 4 of 1981 “no person shall hunt, meaning ‘to kill, molest by any methods and includes attempting to kill, take or molest by any method’ any manatee. Anyone who hunts a manatee will be fined $500.00 on a first offence, and $1000.00 and/or imprisonment for 6 months, for previously convicted wildlife offenders. Jurisdiction is under the Forest Department, Ministry of Natural Resources.”
• They live in both salt and fresh water, especially where seagrass beds are plentiful. They like shallow, slow moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas.
• While there are many tours offered to see manatees, no person is allowed to touch them. ONLY LOOK FROM A RESPECTABLE DISTANCE!
• Even though manatees are protected by law, a large number of manatees are still killed annually by speeding boats. Here how we can prevent these unnecessary deaths: abide by posted speed zone signs in manatee areas; try to stay in deep water channels so as to not run over them; for tour operators: Slow boat to idle speed when 100 yards from manatee site and drift or pole into position once within 75-100 feet of site. IF YOU SEE YOUR GUIDE NOT ABIDING BY THESE REGULATIONS, REPORT THEM!
If you are one of the lucky one to have seen a manatee in the wild, then I’m sure you understand the need to protect them! Together we can make a difference and ensure that the West Indian manatee will thrive in Belize!
To report manatee injuries, deaths or sighting, contact the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute at 0-800-MANATEE (0-800- 6262833).

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About the Author: Janelle Cowo

The youngest member of the My Beautiful Belize family, Janelle loves traveling and experiencing new cultures both within and across the border of Belize. She particularly enjoys history and is an avid Science Fiction, Fantasy and Romance reader. What she lacks in stature, Janelle has (and even surpasses) in spirit for adventure. She is willing to try pretty much anything, from daring jumps to new eats. Janelle lives her life according to Mae West quote “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

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