Written By: Linda Searle
Our gentle giants, the endangered manatees, have been under increased threats the past 25 years. In the 90s we used to observe them in large mating herds off the Belize City coastline, but today, all we see are dead ones that wash ashore.
I’ve enjoyed watching them at the Belize River mouth, while snorkeling on the reef and along the coast. It’s so peaceful to watch them, yet I felt concerned for their safety, and saddened since there are many speeding boats traversing the area, seemingly without a care for the endangered manatees living below.
If people were to observe a dead manatee up close – and the sad state of each and every one – they too would soon become an advocate for the dire change needed to save the manatee from extinction in Belize.
I’ve come upon recently deceased manatees, dead manatees with exposed unborn fetuses, manatees with large prop scars, but the stench of a rotting manatee is the worst, with the hordes of turkey vultures that quickly identify the rotting corpse. Sometimes only the grey fleshy skin of the once majestic manatee laps with each wave at the seashore’s edge. Each time I encounter a dead female manatee, I think about the unborn calves that will never be. Each time I see a dead manatee, there is an empty pit in my stomach, that yet another manatee has been killed, with no apparent concern of its passing.
So far this year, the number of dead manatees is less than that from the last two years, making me wonder, has the population gotten so low that there just aren’t that many anymore to kill?
When I see a dead manatee, I think of how the manatee used to gracefully glide through the water exploring the reefs, seagrass beds and rivers, the same way I enjoy snorkeling, diving and exploring our aquatic realm, and I am left with a melancholy feeling knowing there is one less manatee unable to explore Belize, and one less manatee for future generations of Belizeans and visitors to enjoy.
But it’s not too late yet, we do still have them. It’s time to protect their critical habitat now to avoid extinction later.
(Photo Credit: John Searle)