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Saving the Manatees of Belize

By on January 24, 2019 in News, EDGE Mammals

Jamal Galves is a National Geographic Photo Ark EDGE Fellow currently working to protect the West Indian (Antillean) Manatee in Belize (Trichechus manatus ssp. manatus).

As a marine conservationist he is combining scientific research, education and outreach to help save the species. When asked about why he wants to conserve his EDGE species Jamal explains:

“Belize has the last stronghold of the endangered West Indian (Antillean) Manatees in the world – with about 1000 individuals remaining in Belize. Efforts to save this species are critical for the survival of the species not only locally, but globally. If the numbers in Belize continue to dwindle, there is a possibility that this species may become extinct.”

Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) | © Shutterstock

Alongside his team, he carries out manatee health assessments, satellite tagging and drone surveys. Using these techniques, they collect vital data including manatee movement patterns, behaviour, habitat use and human conflicts.

Manatee health assessment | © Jamal Galves

During the first six months of his Fellowship, Jamal has successfully captured and carried out health assessments on six manatees, three of which were satellite tagged, allowing his team to monitor their movements and habitat use. He’s also been hard at work with authorities; carrying out patrols, catching speeding boats and confiscating illegally set nets in important manatee areas. He has been invited to be a part of the government appointed gill-net task force which is a group of fisheries, conservationists and government officials assigned to address the issues and impacts of this fishing gear. In addition, with help from the EDGE team, he is discussing a proposal to ensure the government protects one of his study sites as it is used by large numbers of manatees. His outreach work also includes engaging with local communities, spreading awareness about the manatees at local schools and meeting fishermen and residents to specifically discuss the impact of gill-nets on manatees.

Gill-net campaign | © Jamal Galves

Taking a step back from the daily grind however, Jamal explains that he loves working with manatees for their amazing behaviour: “the bond between a mother and its calf, it is so much like a loving and protective mother and her baby”. He quickly adds however that working with them has left him in a few amusing situations:

“During our manatee captures one of the manatees was really feisty. For context, I had just changed into the only dry shirt and cap left on the boat while we were putting the manatee on-board. The manatee was thrashing around on the boat so much that most people had to bail off the boat and into the water. I was one of the last ones on the boat despite having almost fallen off the edge of the boat twice. I was laughing and enjoying the fact that everyone had abandoned the boat except me. I of course, did not want to bail from the boat. Just when it seemed that the manatee had calmed down, it started thrashing around and, in true style, I fell from the boat into the water wearing my only dry shirt, cap and sunglasses. Needless to say, everyone laughed back at me as I joined them in the water!”

Read more about Jamal’s National Geographic Photo Ark EDGE project here.