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  • Often described as “sea cows,” manatees are some of the most interesting and unusual mammals in the world. Long considered to be the “mermaids” of ancient seafaring lore, manatees are gentle, curious creatures with a long, round body and a puppy dog face, similar to that of a seal or walrus.

    Manatees weigh around 1,200 pounds (550 kg) and are herbivorous, meaning they only eat plants. Manatees are related to the dugongs of the Pacific Ocean. There are three known species of manatees: the Amazonian manatee found in South America, the West African manatee, and the West Indian manatee. The two subspecies of the West Indian manatee are the Florida manatee and the Antillean manatee.

    It is the Antillean manatee subspecies of the West Indian manatee that live in Belize. According to the United Nations and the World Conservation Union, the Antillean manatee are in severe danger of extinction and are thus a protected species.

    Belize has the largest concentration of Antillean manatees in the world as a result of its coastline being highly conducive to manatee life. Manatees require very warm water and large amounts of plant material to eat on a daily basis. The coastline of Belize has many inlets and tributaries as well as dense mangrove forests and large beds of seagrass. Furthermore, Belize has protected manatees since the 1930s, a key step in protecting these fragile creatures.

    Belize has established several wildlife sanctuaries to protect manatees and other marine life, including the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, the Southern Lagoon Wildlife Sanctuary, the Bacalar Chico National Park, and the South Water Caye Marine Reserve. The government of Belize, in conjunction with both domestic and international NGOs, has worked hard to protect manatees, such as rehabilitating the ones that were injured and/or orphaned.

    The greatest threat to manatees is boat strikes. Boats with propellers often pass over manatees, causing severe injuries or death. Other threats to manatees include becoming entangled in fishing nets and the degradation of their natural environment. Manatees move very slowly and live for many decades, making it hard for their population to recover from environmental changes and/or injuries caused by boats and fishing gear.

    One of the best places to see manatees in Belize is the Placencia Lagoon on the southeastern coast. Laru Beya, the premier Belize beach resort on the Placencia Peninsula, organizes tours to see manatees in their natural habitat.

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