2012, Important Year for Manatee Conservation in the Caribbean
In 2012, the USFWS’ Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (CESFO) worked with partners to complete several recovery actions in benefit of the endangered Antillean manatee. The partners that worked alongside the USFWS include the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources (DNER), the InterAmerican University, the Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center (PRMCC), the Caribbean Stranding Network, the Puerto Rico Zoo and North Carolina State University (NCSU).
Working in cooperation with PRMCC and DNER, the rehabilitation of the Antillean manatee named Tuque was completed successfully one year after he was relocated to the southern coast of Salinas, Puerto Rico, the place he now calls home. PRMCC with the help from the community in Las Mareas, worked together to monitor Tuque for a full year. The USFWS considers this a successful rehabilitation and congratulates our partners in this achievement.
Tuque’s rehabilitation comes as a direct result of increased coordination and investments that intensified in August 2011, when USFWS CESFO was authorized to implement its own Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program for the Antillean manatee population in Puerto Rico. In this capacity, CESFO provides leadership support and ensures compliance with captive rehabilitation permits and other requirements. This role was previously executed by the North Florida Ecological Services Field Office. Individual focus and attention to the Antillean manatee has served to increase collaboration in the last two years amongst the Service, State agencies, NGO’s and Research Institutions increasing understanding for the species biology and conservation needs.
Another achievement in 2012 was the addition of new facilities for the rehabilitation of rescued manatees. The Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center received close to half a million dollars from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Puerto Rico Legislature and the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico to build a new facility for manatee research, rescue, rehabilitation and release at the InterAmerican University Campus in Bayamon. Also, CESFO provided funding to support the manatee rescue rehabilitation facility expansion project at the Puerto Rico Zoo. The Puerto Rico Zoo is another rehabilitation facility authorized for critical care and long-term rehabilitation of rescued manatees in Puerto Rico.
Additional advances were made in 2013 to better quantify the size of the Antillean Manatee population in Puerto Rico. The USFWS has been conducting island-wide manatee aerial surveys since the late 1970’s. In 2010, through a Cooperative agreement with North Carolina State University a new survey method and statistical model were developed and tested to estimate the manatee population in Puerto Rico. This statistical model indicated that the manatee population in Puerto Rico is stable and the population average is 531 manatees in Puerto Rico.
The new method and model will continue to be tested and tuned in 2013.
Collisions with watercrafts cause manatee deaths and serious injuries. To help address this issue, in 2012 we signed a Cooperative Agreement with the DNER, and HJR Reefscaping to install 100 regulatory speed buoys in areas known to be used by the manatee. The buoys will help boaters identify navigable waterways and keep boaters aware of speed zone regulations within manatee areas to avoid or minimize collisions.
The future designation of Manatee Protection Areas (MPAs) in Puerto Rico is considered an essential step towards the recovery of the species. CESFO has been working with NCSU to study manatee coastal habitats based on multiple factors, including their potential to reduce take, quality of the habitat, and total area encompassed. NCSU is developing a report titled Science Summary and Recommendations in support of MPAs Design in Puerto Rico. This document will gather the best available scientific information, identify the most suitable regions of the island for the species and serve as the basis for the USFWS to propose MPAs in Puerto Rico.
We’ve come a long way in understanding the species biology and conservation needs and look forward to continue making progress in 2013 and the coming years.