|Regional Management Plan for the West Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus|
|CEP Technical Report No. 35 1995||All CEP Technical Reports|
As truly aquatic herbivorous mammals, West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) occupy a specialized niche in the ecosystem. The uniqueness of their niche render them susceptible to over-exploitation. Manatees are long-lived, but reproductive processes are slow. Their naturally low population growth and present mortality levels hamper the increase of potential populations, and may actually be accelerating their decline. Manatees are present in nineteen (19) countries of the Wider Caribbean but most populations are estimated at below one hundred (100) individuals. Heavily hunted in the past, they have always played an important role in the folklore and traditions of indigenous peoples of the Wider Caribbean. Ecologically, they may play a role in the cycle of nutrients and in the clearing of water ways by feeding exclusively on aquatic plants.
Socio-economic factors affect manatee conservation in the Wider Caribbean. West Indian manatees occur in areas inhabited by some of the most impoverished peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Manatee preferred habitats correspond to areas usually favored by humans for settlement, and more recently by larger enterprises for services, industrial, and development projects. Manatees are susceptible to anthropogenic and natural disturbances, including environmental catastrophes, harassment, and pollution. Although hunting tradition is dwindling, manatees are still taken throughout the Caribbean for subsistence, and newer threats are emerging. Major hazards vary slightly with the country, but incidental take, hunting, and habitat alteration are the most prevalent. The extent of manatees' range hinders continuity of law enforcement activities, and environmental education programmes to stimulate an ecological consciousness are limited in number and scope of action.
Manatees in Florida exhibit flexible behaviour patterns and adapt quickly to actions taken on their behalf. If left alone some populations have the potential to slowly recover. The keys to manatee conservation in individual countries consist of estimating distribution and abundance, conserving manatee habitats and launching an integrated education/conservation/law enforcement programme to ensure the immunity of those populations to human-related threats.
As individual manatees may move along the territorial waters of several countries, their ultimate conservation will be highly dependent on international co-operation. Some systems (e.g. in Belize, Guatemala, and Venezuela) are identified as potential sources of manatees to more depleted areas, but this will be true only if manatees are granted and assured immediate protection throughout their range.
This document is divided in three sections: I) a review of the biology of the species in the Wider Caribbean, II) status of scientific knowledge and conservation efforts in each country and III) a set of recommended activities to be undertaken by individual countries and the region as a whole.
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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