The warm waters off the coast of Belize are famed for their abundance of wildlife.Â Alongside the brightly colored reef fish, the dolphins and the whale sharks, there are the gentle manatees.Â Yesterday was named Manatee Day in Belize, as local group Friends Of Swallow Caye (FOSC) worked to teach people more about them and about why they need to be protected.
Since establishing a marine protection zone to the south of Ambergris Caye Island in 2002, FOSC has worked hard to ensure that the manatees enjoy protection.Â Since collisions with boats are responsible for around a fifth of manatee deaths and many more serious injuries Â boats traveling through the area are asked to turn off their propellers, thereby reducing the risk.Â PeopleÂ vacationing on Ambergris Caye can still go to see the manatees but are no longer allowed to swim with them.Â Unfortunately, there is still some poaching but FOSC provides a full time ranger to help discourage this.
Thanks to these measures, the local manatee population seems to be slowly recovering.Â Individual manatees can live into their sixties but only have one calf at a time and can take a few years to raise it.Â They feed on the sea grass and on mangrove leaves, which is one reason why conservationists have been working to preserve the mangrove swamps.
Displaying a manatee skeleton at Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, FOSC has been encouraging residents of the islands to go and see it and to learn why manatees are still considered to be an endangered species.Â The reservation also provides a safe space for other marine animals, helping to preserve diversity across the region.Â Despite the swimming ban in the reservation itself, this is good news for locals and tourists who love diving in surrounding areas, as it means there is always something interesting to see.Â Diving trainers and shops can provide advice on how to dive responsibly, to enjoy the wildlife without causing it harm.
Diving and snorkeling are part of the magic that draws people to vacation on Ambergris Caye, so there is a lot of local support for groups such as FOSC, which are effectively helping to protect the future of the business.Â For many people, a vacation like this proves so appealing that they end up settling in the area permanently.