Friday, July 12, 2024

Island tour guides and boat captains attend Manatee Conservation Workshop


Aiming to protect and reduce the death toll of the endangered Antillean manatee, a conservation workshop was held in San Pedro Town on Thursday, October 10th. Representatives from the many tour companies in San Pedro gathered at the Lion’s Den at 7PM to participate in the event, which provided valuable information for tourism industry partners on manatees. This was a collaborative effort of Friends of Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize Forest Department (BFD), Clear Water Marine Aquarium Research Institute, Protect Our Manatees Belize organization, Belize Tourism Board, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, and Belize Port Authority.
Welcoming everyone to the workshop was Hol Chan Marine Reserve Marine Biologist Kirah Forman-Castillo, who explained what would be covered during the workshop. The first presentation was given by manatee advocate Jamal Galves from Clear Water Marine Aquarium Research Institute and the Protect Our Manatees Belize organization. Galves is a self-made manatee expert who has dedicated much of his life to the protection of these animals. He shared the basic details of these gentle giants, including their habitats, importance to society, population dynamics, reproduction, eating habits, and the threats they face in Belize. He shared that Belize has the largest population of these creatures, which is approximately one thousand in our waters. However, in recent years, the death toll of manatees has drastically increased, mostly due to watercraft collisions. Thus, the need for the workshop to educate boat captains and tour guides on how they can do their part in ensuring manatees are not hurt or killed at sea. Manatee deaths are also caused by dredging, pollution, gill nets, and even poaching. Forman-Castillo added that sea turtles are being affected by boat collisions on Ambergris Caye. She asked that boat captains drive carefully to avoid harming or killing these precious creatures as well.
Next up was BFD’s Oswaldo Pott, who reminded the attendees that manatees are protected in Belize under the Wildlife Protection Act, No. 4 of 1981, whose jurisdiction is under the Forest Department in the Ministry of Natural Resources. Under this Act, 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 on a first offense, and $1000 and/or imprisonment for six months, for previously convicted wildlife offenders. He further advised boat captains that in the event they hurt or kill a manatee by accident due to boat collision, to please report it to the department or relevant organization. “You will not be charged as it was a mistake, and you called to report it. However, if it has happened several times, then we will have to take a look at how the incident transpired,” said Pott.
The last presenter of the night was well-known conservationist and manatee advocate Luz Hunter who spoke of the NO WAKE ZONES in place to avoid boat collision-related manatee deaths. Boaters are cautioned to drive carefully in these areas, including Swallow Caye, Moho Caye, Port-O-Stuck, Drowned Caye, Hicks Caye, Bluefield Range, Rider Caye, Turneffe Atoll, Placencia Lagoon, Chetumal Bay, Port of Honduras Area, Indian Hill Lagoon, Deep River, Belize River, Monkey River, Rio Hondo, and Mullins. Maria Vega of Friends of Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary concluded the workshop by sharing some of the work her organization does, then thanking everyone for their attendance.
After that, all tour guides, boat captains and other islanders who participated in the workshop were presented with a manatee conservation certificate by Galves.
Organizers would like to thank everyone who attended and made the workshop a success. They further advise everyone to continue doing their part in protecting and preserving Belize’s marine life and environment. For more information, or to report manatee deaths/injuries/sightings, please contact the Manatee Researchers at the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute via 223- 0719 or 223-5739.

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