The beauty of Belize is to be found in its natural environment. Whether hiking in the jungles to visit Mayan ruins or touring the mangroves to watch colorful birds, visitors are often enchanted by the diversity of plants and animals in this small country. For a special outing, take a trip to see the manatees in their natural habitat. Their graceful presence makes them a special conservation focus for the nation.
Do Manatees Live in Belize?
Manatees are warm water dwelling creatures. They have been called by many names throughout their history including sea cows and sirenians, or sirens. When Europeans first spotted them, they first thought that they were mermaids. Their cousins in Florida migrate when the waters become cooler but the Belizean, or Antillean, manatee does not need to migrate because the Caribbean waters stay warm throughout the year. As herbivores, the manatee feed on grass throughout the day reaching an average weight of 1,500-1,800 lbs. On average, they reach 8-10 ft in length and have a lifespan of 60 years.
Visitors can see and learn about these beautiful creatures on organized manatee tours. While manatees can be found along the coastline of Belize, there are three protected sanctuaries where sightings are more likely. In the northern part of the country, there is the northern lagoon in the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary is another popular location about seven miles from Belize City. Lastly, Gales Point Manatee Sanctuary is in the southern area of the Belize District in the Southern Lagoon. Tours for the northern locations originate in Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The southern lagoon tour sets out from Placencia. This is a unique opportunity to see and learn about manatees in the wild. Expect these adventures to begin in the morning, returning around 4 pm and include lunch.
Boat Traffic Beware
With no known predators, these gentle creatures often fall victim to human activity. As they prefer shallow water (2-6 ft), they often collide with watercraft. They also have fallen victim to pollution, fishhooks and monofilament lines. The government of Belize has taken conservation steps to protect them. In other Central and South American countries, they have been hunted for their hides and bones. To prevent their further decline, the Government of Belize protects them under the Belize Wildlife Protection Act of 1981. Currently, there are about 1,000 manatees in Belize waters but this number is growing thanks to conservation efforts.
Cruise to Belize
Cruising to Belize offers many opportunities to not only learn about the diverse plants and animals of the country but to also come close to them in their natural habitats. Snorkeling only enhances the experience of ‘entering their world.’ Even if you stay on the boat, you will be treated with sightings of manatees as they surface for air every 30 seconds or so. Guides are extremely knowledgeable so be sure to ask many questions. Join in their conservation efforts by learning about the manatees of Belize and why these animals are so important to the culture of this tiny nation. It’s a trip you’ll never forget.
A. Celeste Sauls Marks lives in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico and San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize with her husband and their papillon, Tallulah Exploring world cultures and meeting new friends are the driving force behind her every adventure.