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Research and Protect Manatees

by Katherine Noyes
The Challenge

Manatees are gentle, slow-moving marine mammals whose time may be running out. Since record-keeping began in 1974, more than 1,750 manatees have been killed by boaters alone, and that doesn't include numerous other human-related causes. That leaves just a few thousand manatees left in the wild.

A manatee's natural lifespan is about 60 years, but recent research has found that most manatees today die before they are 10 years old. Almost all manatees have been scarred by encounters with propellers, and the number of deaths has been increasing annually over the past several years.

West Indian manatees in the United States are protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which make it illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal. West Indian manatees are also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. But unless strong actions are taken to limit motorized boats and development in coastal areas, this species of marine mammal is not expected to recover within 100 years.

Several organizations and researchers are working to help manatees survive by studying their needs and assessing what must be done to save them. By spending your next vacation helping to study and protect manatees, you can do your part to give these gentle giants a lasting future.

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  • Global Vision International offers a conservation program in Belize that includes caring for orphaned manatees there. This manatee volunteer vacation has a minimum duration of four weeks.
  • Another opportunity in Belize is offered by Sirenian International, whose summer field project focuses on working with manatees and dolphins. Participants live, work, and study from a marine science field station on a private island within the Belize Barrier Reef Lagoon System; data collected contributes to a long-term manatee & dolphin research project.
  • A conservation project offered through i-to-i focuses on sea turtles and manatees on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Tasks include monitoring the manatee population in local marshes; trips span one to four weeks in duration.
  • The Manatee Observation and Education Center in Fort Pierce, Fla., has a wide range of volunteer opportunities available, including guides, special events assistants and grants writers.
  • The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute seeks volunteers and interns to assist with its programs focusing on manatee and boater interaction research, boater education on the water, and boater education on shore. A photo-identification project, for example, is dedicated to the monitoring of Florida manatees in southwest Florida. Assignments are typically seasonal, but start and end dates are flexible. Successful applicants are responsible for their own housing and transportation to and from FWRI.
  • If you live along a river, estuary, canal or coastal area in Florida, you can help provide valuable information to researchers who are tracking manatees. Save the Manatee Club has a sighting network to collect information, as well as other opportunities to volunteer.

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