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

Jamaica's manatee population was judged to be declining throughout the island in the l960's and l970's (Crombie 1975 unpubl. report, Powell 1976 unpubl. report). In a 1976 aerial survey from St. Mary to St. Elizabeth (Powell (1976 unpubl. report) observed a single manatee, at Alligator Reef, off Manchester Parish. Thirteen island-wide aerial surveys were conducted monthly between May 1981 and April 1982 (Fairbairn and Haynes 1982), and again in February 1983 (Hurst 1987, Brown 1993 unpubl. ms.) by the Natural Resources Conservation Department (now NRCA), disclosing an uneven distribution. Most sightings occurred in shallow areas of the southern coast west of Kingston. The largest numbers were observed, in decreasing order, off the parishes of St. Elizabeth and Manchester, and in the Portland Bight, off the parishes of St. Catherine and Clarendon. The maximum count at any single survey was 13 (Fairbairn and Haynes 1982). Two aerial surveys have been conducted by Natural Resources Conservation Authority since then. Between March 6 and June 12, 1991 only 2 adults were sighted off the coast near Alligator Pond Bay, Clarendon; in April 10-11, 1993, 8 manatees were seen (1 at Manatee Bay, St. Catherine, 6 at Morant Bay, St. Thomas and 1 at the Salt Creek Bay, Portland). No calves were observed (Donaldson in 1993 in litt.). Manatees are reported more frequently for Treasure Beach (St. Elizabeth parish), Alligator Pond (Manchester parish), and Farquhar's Beach (Clarendon parish). Falmouth (Trelawny), Bloody Bay (Hanover), Morant Bay (Portland), Priory (St. Ann). Although commonly seen in the 1970's, manatees have not been reported for the Black River recently (Lefebvre et al. 1989).

Major threats and conservation problems

Human-related activities (poaching for food and incidental taking in fishing devices) constitute the major threats to manatees in Jamaica. An increase in the number of artisanal fishermen due to high unemployment rates, associated with destruction of coastal mangroves and seagrass beds has led to a decline in fish stocks. It is in the most economically depressed areas that local residents turn to manatee hunting (NRCA 1993 unpubl. report), using both harpoons and dynamite. Shaul and Haynes (1986) estimated that 3 manatees are killed a year usually in the most depressed areas of the south coast, such as in St. Elizabeth Parish between Parottee Point and Black River (Hurst 1987). However, due to their relative rarity manatees are taken opportunistically rather than actively sought (Powell 1976 unpubl. report). Most manatee deaths are due to incidental or intentional entanglement in gill nets (NRCA 1993 unpubl. report). In 1976 Powell (unpubl. report) identified gill nets set perpendicular to the beach as a source of problems for manatees in Jamaica. Gill nets were seen in every area considered as suitable manatee habitat during the 1993 aerial surveys (Donaldson 1993 in litt.). Hurst (1987) reported on manatee deaths due to seine netting parallel to the coast in Long Bay, south coast of Jamaica. Gill and seine netting account for 23% of Jamaica's total catch (NRCA 1993 unpubl. report). Despite protection, manatees are intentionally caught in gill and seine nets and the meat sold illegally at boat sides on the beach, where it commands a higher price than fish or lobster (NRCA 1993 unpubl. report).

Habitat degradation and pollution may also be affecting manatee distribution in Jamaica. Raw sewage, industrial waste, and agricultural and urban runoff are dumped into Kingston Harbour and Cobre and Duhaney rivers; Rio Cobre also receives waste from beverage plants, and Black and Cabarrita rivers from sugar industries; and several rivers are being silted up due to deforestation of watersheds. Oil tankers wash their tanks close to Port Esquivel (adjacent to Old Harbour power station) where an oil leak in a storage pipeline destroyed 5 acres of seagrasses in 1984. In Port Kaiser seagrasses are smothered by spilled bauxite ore (Brown 1993 unpubl. ms.). Coastal seagrass beds have also been affected by thermal and industrial pollution, siltation and dredging, threatening manatees' food source (NRCA 1993 unpubl. report). In addition agricultural and waterfront development projects have claimed mangrove swamps in St. Catherine, Kingston Harbour and Montego Bay (NRCA 1993 unpubl. report). The use of explosives as a means of capturing fish has caused loss of some coastal wetlands (NRCA 1993 unpubl. report) and is a potential threat to manatees.

Socio-economic significant of the species to local communities

Manatees were used in pre-historic times (AD 900-1000) in the southern coast by Arawak Indians (Hurst 1987), and by Amerindians in the late 15th and early 16th centuries (Baughman 1946). In the past, the Alligator Hole River area had been used as a manatee butchering and cooking site (Hurst 1987).

National legislation and conservation measures

Manatees in Jamaica are considered endangered and vulnerable (Hurst 1987). They have been protected since 1971 by Jamaica's Wildlife Protection Act, which stipulates a J$10,000.00 fine or 12 months imprisonment to offenders. Although fishermen are aware of legislation, enforcement is inadequate (Donaldson 1993 in litt.). Jamaica signed the SPAW Protocol but is not yet Party to the CITES Convention.

An island-wide public education programme, with emphasis on the southern parishes, was conducted in 1991 as part of a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Government of Jamaica Manatee Project. The programme was geared towards elementary and high-school students, teachers, and fishermen and included the distribution of pamphlets, posters and bumper stickers (NRCA 1993 unpubl. report). Environmental non-governmental organizations often conduct talks with fishermen and other groups about manatees and environmental issues (Donaldson 1993 in litt.). Four female manatees (three of which were confiscated from fishermen) were placed in Alligator Hole River, Canoe Valley, Manchester Parish between 1981 and 1986, in an attempt to publicize and encourage manatee research and conservation (Operation Sea Cow) (Hurst 1987). The carrying capacity of Alligator Hole River was estimated (NRCA 1993 unpubl. report) and a programme set up in 1993 to try to increase the vegetation cover in that area, to support the captive manatees' need (Donaldson 1993 in litt.). A Manatee Management Plan has been produced outlining the management strategies for the West Indian manatee in Jamaica (Brown 1993 unpubl. ms.).

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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