Southeast Ecological Science Center
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Conserving Manatees Beyond Borders
The USGS has been researching manatees in Florida and the Caribbean for decades, but little is known about Cuban manatees. Yet, conserving the manatee throughout its range is important to ensure the long-term recovery of the species. To expand global understanding of Cuban manatees, USGS biologist Dr. Bob Bonde recently shared his expertise in manatee necropsies with Cuban biologists, conservation workers, technicians, and students.
Dr. Bonde worked with a team of international manatee experts to conduct a three-day workshop on manatee biology, genetics, and carcass examination at the University of Havana Institute for Marine Studies in Havana, Cuba. The team was organized and sponsored by conservation groups Sea to Shore Alliance and Wildlife Trust, which have been working in Cuba since 2001 to conduct manatee research and help train the next generation of manatee conservationists. The workshop on manatee biology and necropsy is part of a series of training programs on how to better understand the manatees that inhabit the island. Necropsy -the examination of manatee carcasses - is important for understanding causes of manatee deaths.
Resource managers in Cuba have begun taking important conservation steps by educating local communities, including fisherman, about manatees and what they can do to help protect the species. Cuban biologists have also begun an in-depth study of manatees on the Isle of Youth. An important next step, says Dr. Bonde, is to begin surveying manatee populations by plane. Such aerial surveys provide valuable information about how manatees use habitats in and around the island, and can be later enhanced by using radiotags to study how manatees move between habitats. Another critical part of the overall conservation picture is to learn more about the genetics of Cuban manatees.
The species of manatee found in Cuba - the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) - is the same as that found in Florida and throughout the Caribbean. However, conservation geneticists are just beginning to piece together clues as to how the Cuban population is inter-related with the Florida and Antillean sub-species found elsewhere in the Caribbean. Cuban manatee populations appear to be mixing not only with their northern cousins in Florida but also with populations in Mexico and Belize. Learning more about these relationships will help ensure more robust strategies for protecting the species' long-term chances for survival.
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