Manatees or sea cows are herbivorous marine mammals, endemic to the Caribbean. Belize is home to about 1,000 of these gentle giants, it's the largest manatee population in Central America. Unfortunately, these endangered mammals are declining. You can volunteer at the Manatee Rehabilitation Center on Ambergris Caye to help save Belizean manatees. Volunteers feed orphaned and injured manatees and release rehabilitated marine mammals back into the wild.
Visitors can also spot manatees in three protected areas off the Belizean coast. Northern Lagoon in Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, not far from Ambergris Caye and San Pedro, is the northernmost spot. In the central part of the country, manatee tours to Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary depart from Belize City and Caye Caulker. Finally, Gales Point Manatee Wildlife Sanctuary can be reached from Dangriga in South Belize. Manatee Lodge on Gales Point offers several options to experience the manatees all year round.
West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) live in rivers and shallow coastal waters. They reach 13 ft (4 m) in length and weigh about 300 lbs (590 kg). Their main cause of death is pollution and human activity. Motorboats and ships are especially dangerous for these curious sea mammals.
When is the best time to visit Belize to spot manatees?
You can see manatees throughout the year in Belize. The ideal time for spotting them is the dry season from September to February. Calmer waters during these months make it easier to spot them, while increased rainfall during the wet season between June and August results in murky waters, reducing visibility. Show more
How can I volunteer at the Manatee Rehabilitation Center?
If you'd like to volunteer at the Manatee Rehabilitation Center on Ambergris Caye, you can participate in their conservation efforts. The program covers marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation, and release, with specialized training and hands-on experience such as feeding orphaned manatee calves and monitoring their progress. The center has requirements and application procedures that you can contact them for. Show more
Where are the three protected areas off the Belizean coast to spot manatees?
In Belize, you'll find three primary protected areas for spotting manatees off the coast. These include Northern Lagoon, which you'll find near Ambergris Caye and San Pedro in the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. The Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary is central, and you can depart from Belize City and Caye Caulker. Meanwhile, Gales Point Manatee Wildlife Sanctuary in South Belize, accessible from Dangriga, is where you can find the Manatee Lodge offering all-year-round manatee spotting tours. Show more
Why are manatees declining in number in Belize?
Human activities, mainly development, pollution, hunting, and underwater traffic, contribute to the decline in manatee populations in Belize. Coastal and inward development poses a threat to the availability of habitat and food sources for manatees. Whereas in the past, they were hunted for meat and oil, they now suffer accidental injuries and deaths from motorboats and ship collisions. Show more
How do human activities harm the manatee population in Belize?
Human activities, such as development and pollution, result in habitat loss and degradation, reducing the availability of the food sources manatees require. Unregulated poaching and bycatch methods in fishing negatively impact the manatee population, while the increased vessel traffic results in injuries and fatalities amongst manatees. Therefore, conservation-oriented programs must focus on minimizing human disturbances to protect the species. Show more