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Antillean Manatee Research

We're studying endangered Antillean manatees in Belize and Mexico to improve conservation efforts.

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Overview

The Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) is an endangered subspecies of manatee found in the Caribbean Sea. Fewer than 2,500 adult Antillean manatees are thought to remain in the wild and their numbers are declining due to threats such as habitat degradation, entanglement in fishing gear, poaching, and boat collisions.

Yet relatively little is known about Antillean manatees, which hampers efforts to protect them. Without basic information about the habitats they rely on for feeding, traveling, and reproducing at various stages in their lives, it is difficult to develop effective conservation programs.

Oceanic Society is working with partners in Belize, Mexico, and the U.S. to generate the information that is urgently needed to better protect Antillean manatees and reverse their population declines. We are actively sharing our research findings with relevant national and international agencies, and recommending science-based strategies for manatee conservation.

Threats

Fewer than 2,500 adult Antillean manatees are thought to remain and their populations are declining. Throughout their range, Antillean manatees are impacted by habitat degradation and loss, accidental entanglement in fishing gear, hunting, pollution, and boat collisions. They are further threatened by our lack of knowledge about their key habitats, behaviors, life histories, population size and structure, and other information that is needed to effectively protect them.

How We Are Helping

Belize is home to the largest remaining population of Antillean manatees, which are found along the entire coast of Central America and the Antilles. Turneffe Atoll, home to the Oceanic Society Field Station, is the only known offshore habitat for Antillean manatees.

We are using radio and satellite tracking, aerial surveys, boat-based surveys, and habitat assessments to study the Antillean manatee population at Turneffe Atoll, about which very little is currently known. Through our research we are identifying key manatee habitats and migration routes, studying seasonal patterns in manatee behavior and habitat use, evaluating their population size and structure, and studying their ecological requirements.

Already we are revealing important new information about the Antillean manatee population at Turneffe Atoll. For example, our research in collaboration with Dr. Holly Edwards first discovered that Turneffe is an important and consistently used manatee habitat, and radio tracking of Turneffe’s manatees in 2013–2014 has revealed that they regularly travel between the Atoll and the Belizean mainland. These results suggest that protecting the manatee population at Turneffe Atoll requires us to look beyond the Atoll to also protect their migration routes and habitats along the mainland.

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