Jamal Galves is one of our newest Nat Geo Photo Ark EDGE Fellows, who will soon be starting his project focused on West Indian manatees in Belize. We asked Jamal to write this blog to introduce himself, his project, and what an EDGE Fellowship means to him.
A boy and his manatees
Like any 12 year old boy I was fascinated by sports and other outdoor activities. I was often searching for something exciting to do or someone to go along with. But from the time I was a small boy, I also knew I wanted to work with animals – specifically manatees, the charismatic aquatic mammals for which my village is named.
I grew up in the small village of Gales Point Manatee, in Southern Belize. While most of my classmates were spending their weekends and holidays relaxing, I was working with scientists, monitoring and feeding two manatees nicknamed “Woody” and “Hercules”, orphan manatees in their final stages of rehabilitation.
I had very little knowledge of manatees and was unsure how a manatee could be an orphan. What I did know is that they needed help. I would wake up early in the morning to assist with their feeding and stayed late recording their behavior and progress.
I eventually helped with the tracking of those two manatees after their release, to ensure that they were successfully reintroduced into the wild. Spending so much time with those two manatees I connected to them and became passionate and determined to protect these gentle giants.
In 1998 I met Sea to Shore Alliance Executive Director and founder Dr. James “Buddy” Powell and USGS scientist Robert Bonde while participating in my first manatee health assessment. Working with these two renowned scientists influenced me enormously and I was immediately hooked and soon found myself taking every opportunity to work with manatees.
After finishing high school, I volunteered to work with Nicole Auil Gomez and was eventually given a full time position with the manatee project, continuing my dream of protecting wildlife. Today I am the Program Coordinator and Research Biologist for the Belize Manatee Conservation Project with the Sea to Shore Alliance.
I have dedicated my life to the conservation and protection of my aquatic friends. The fight for the survival of manatees will require more than just efforts by conservationist’s and a few caring individuals. This fight is not one that they can fight alone but one that will require a change in all human behaviors that negatively impact not only manatees but the entire marine ecosystem.
In order to ensure the survival of my childhood friends I have set out to tell the world about them and their fight for survival, inspiring people to care and to want to help.
You too can be a part of this effort by promoting safe boating in manatee areas, stashing your trash, promoting sustainable fishing, donating, volunteering and sharing the word on social media.