The Nation and the World

“Save the Manatees” is more than just a slogan

After hearing the distressing news that the Paddleboard with Manatees! excursion that my mom and I had signed up to take over Spring Break in Bonita Springs, FL, had gotten rained out, I looked up pictures of manatees to make myself feel better. This is how I found my new favorite animal. I remembered hearing the “Save the Manatees” slogan, so I looked past pages and pages of videos and GIFs and began to do some research. 

Granted the fitting nickname of the “sea cow,” West Indian Manatees are very large (averaging 10 feet long and ranging from 800 to 1,200 pounds) yet gentle, friendly animals. Most of their time is taken up by either eating, resting, or traveling.

They eat aquatic plants and can consume all types of vegetation from freshwater and saltwater environments. Manatees are primarily herbivorous. However, small fish can sometimes find their way in by mistake along with a manatee’s regular plant-filled diet. 

West Indian Manatees can be found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas, particularly where seagrass beds or freshwater vegetation grow. In the colder months within the United States, these manatees migrate down south and are found in most of Florida but can travel all the way south to Texas. They also can be found globally in the coastal and inland waterways of Central America and along the northern coast of South America.

Although they have no natural predators, the population of manatees in the United States has fluctuated immensely: Today’s population estimate is around 13,000 manatees distributed throughout the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico. They are protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Humans cause most manatee fatalities: these mainly occur from watercraft collisions or can sometimes happen due to human products such as fishing hooks and lines or litter.

The manatees’ most significant long-term threat is the lack of warm-water habitat that manatees need to survive. This also is caused by human influence: coastal residential and commercial development continues to degrade manatee habitat. Manatees become susceptible to cold stress, which is often lethal, at temperatures below 68F. Residential development has dramatically reduced the natural springs used by manatees to thermo-regulate, keeping themselves warm. 

Since record-keeping began in 1974, more than 41% of manatee deaths have been human-related, and almost 34% were due to watercraft collisions, the most significant known cause of manatee deaths. I am happy to report the growing number of “Manatee zone, minimum wake” signs in popular boating areas to prevent collisions. 

With my growing obsession with looking up manatee pictures, I stumbled upon the Save the Manatee organization. This nonprofit, membership-based organization was established in 1981 by singer Jimmy Buffett and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, two avid supporters of manatees. 

Save the Manatee’s objective is to “recover and protect manatees and their aquatic ecosystems throughout the world.” They state that, “with increased awareness, education, regulations, and enforcement, manatee deaths caused by humans could be substantially reduced, and the eventual recovery of the species could be realized.”

What I have learned is that, more than the adorable GIFs they produce (look it up, you won’t be sorry!), manatees have a vital role to play in our ecosystem: they can help prevent vegetation from becoming overgrown, and they consume invasive species, improving the health of the ecosystem. Manatees are also essential sources of fertilization for seagrasses and other submerged aquatic vegetation, necessary for stopping climate change. 

These gentle giants play a crucial role in our ecosystem. On top of this, how can you not want to give one a hug?

I’ve learned that it’s essential that we educate ourselves further on topics, like your new favorite animal, to be enlightened about the world around us, rather than just admiring a picture and going on with your day. I was so surprised to learn how much impact manatees have on the ecosystem and the future state of our world. I wanted to make a change and figured that writing this and sharing some information on the topic would be a great start.

Image source: Time.

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