UNEP logo Regional Management Plan for the West Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus

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CEP Technical Report No. 35 1995 All CEP Technical Reports


Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
French Guiana (France)
Puerto Rico (USA)
Trinidad & Tobago
United States


Status and distribution

Manatees in Guatemala are said to have been greatly reduced in numbers between the 1500s and 1800s due to commercial hunting, and by sport and subsistence harvest by 1960. Habitat seems good for manatees in most areas of Guatemala, however recent observations indicate that the population is small, and even a few yearly deaths might hold it at a low level.

Manatees in Guatemala occur mostly in the freshwater Río Dulce ecosystem (El Golfete, Rio Chocón-Machacas, Lago de Izabal, Río Polochic and Río Oscuro). Smaller numbers occur in the short Caribbean coast (Bahia de Amatique, Bahia de la Graciosa and Punta Manabique), Río Sarstun on the Belize border, Canal de los Ingleses (Canal Chapín), and Río Motagua close to the border with Honduras (Janson 1978, Ackerman 1992, Quintana 1993). A single 6-hour flight in 1976 produced only 1 manatee sighting (Lefebvre et al. 1989). In 1991, 9 manatees were observed in a survey over the Caribbean coast and the river systems of Río Dulce, Sarstun and Motagua. Comprehensive aerial surveys covering the Atlantic coast and the Lago Izabal/El Golfete complex, during 4 months of 1992 (January, March, April, May) yielded a total count of 66 manatees (including 7 calves) in 40 hours of survey, resulting in an estimate of + 44 manatees in the country (Quintana 1993). The percentage of calves is comparable to the value derived for Crystal River's growing population (Rathbun et al. 1983b). Manatees were most frequently observed in Lago de Izabal, particularly in the southwestern area between Punta Chapín and Cayo Padre, where vegetation, shallow canals and lagoons are abundant, and boat traffic is reduced. Calves were frequently observed in Cayo Padre ensenada and mating episodes have been reported for Punta Chapín. El Golfete may represent only a corridor between Lago de Izabal and the marine area. Presence of manatees in the latter tends to increase during the winter (May) when salinity decreases (Quintana 1993).

Major threats and conservation problems

Boat traffic, illegal hunting, illegal use of gill nets in the lakes, and contamination by pesticide residues are major threats to manatee survival in Guatemala. There are several reports of manatees hit by boats or killed in gill nets in the past few years. El Golfete is an area of intense tourist boat traffic between Río Dulce and Livingston (Quintana 1993). Gill-netting is very common in the area, affecting mainly calves. Indians fish from dugout canoes using 100-300 m monofilament gill nets or cast nets (Ackerman 1991, 1992 unpubl. reports). Manatee meat is occasionally offered in various local markets; the fines applied to hunters are insufficient to discourage infraction, as the price commanded by the illegal sale compensates the offense. A petroleum company has been conducting seismic testing for oil deposits in the vicinity of Lago de Izabal (Ackerman 1992 unpubl. report). If prospection ensues, threats associated with oil spills and increased boat traffic may alter manatee distribution in the area.

National legislation and conservation measures

Manatees are further protected by Acuerdo Presidencial of 1959 whereby manatee hunting is illegal (Quintana 1993), however enforcement is little in the remote Indian villages (Ackerman 1991 unpubl. report). Guatemala is a Party to the CITES Convention and is signatory to the SPAW Protocol.

Guatemala created the first reserve designated for manatees in Central and South America, the Biótopo para la Conservación del Manatí Chocón-Machacas, in El Golfete, Izabal in 1979 (Lefebvre et al. 1989). With its numerous lagoons, vegetated shorelines, and winding rivers, the Biótopo constitutes an excellent site for manatee protection and provides considerable manatee and environmental awareness to nationals and foreign tourists. However, it may be too small to contain the full seasonal movements of manatees and few are the sightings of manatees in the Reserve (Ackerman 1992 unpubl. report). In addition, the Rio Dulce - from Lago de Izabal to the ocean - and El Golfete receive some protection as a National Park since 1955.

Belize | Colombia | Costa Rica | Cuba | Dominican Republic | French Guiana (France) | Guatemala | Guyana | Haiti | Honduras | Jamaica | Mexico | Nicaragua | Panama | Puerto Rico (USA) | Suriname | Trinidad & Tobago | United States | Venezuela

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Preface and Objectives | Summary | I. Introduction | II. National Status | III. Short and Long-term...IV. References | Appendix I | Appendix II | Appendix III | Table 1 | Manatee Map

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