The manatee in Guadeloupe Archipelago (Le Lamantin sur l’archipel de Guadeloupe)

In this blog post, I am going to focus on the manatee which has been reintroduced this summer in Guadeloupe Archipelago. Let’s dig deeper into the subject.

What is a manatee?

Manatees also known as sea cows are large marine mammals. The average adult manatee is between 8 to 13 feet (2 to 4 metres) long and weighs between 800 to 1200 pounds (350 to 550 kilos). Manatees are herbivores and eat a broad variety of submerged, emergent and floating plants including alligator weed, hyacinth, mangrove leaves, marine algae, musk grass, pickerel weed, sea grasses, shoal grass, water celery, water lettuce or widgeon grass. However, small fishes and invertebrates can be ingested along with the vegetation diet sometimes.

 

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Alligator weed

 

pickerel-weed
Pickerel weed

 

 

As a marine mammal manatees swim in coastal waters and rivers and never leave the water. This is why they must breathe air at the surface. Manatees are slow-moving animals and generally glide along at 9 kilometres an hour and can swim 25 kilometres an hour. A typical day of a manatee is mostly eating, resting and travelling.

In terms of breeding, manatees are not sexually mature until they are about five years old. Furthermore, the reproductive rate is quite low with a breeding every 2 to 5 years with and the birth of a single calf. The gestation period lasts about a year plus a further 12 to 18 months to wean the calf.

 With a lifespan of about 60 years, some of their deaths are the result of human activities such as habitat destruction. In the past, manatees were hunted and exploited for their meat, fat and hides.

 The manatee in Guadeloupe Archipelago

Until the first half of the 19th century, there were West Indian manatees in Guadeloupe Archipelago waters. Unfortunately, from the 20th century the animal has been listed as an endangered species because of tremendous hunting. Nowadays manatees are no longer living in the Archipelago but few years ago, the National Park of Guadeloupe has undertaken an ambitious project: the reintroduction of the West Indian manatee in the “Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin” bay*. Indeed, the “Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin” bay* represents a well-managed area with relatively minor threats to manatees, compared to many other locations in the wider Caribbean. This project aims to improve the global conservation status of the species and subspecies by restoring a population in Guadeloupe Archipelago as well as regaining a strong element of biodiversity, lost by human actions.

After multiple discussions with several countries where manatees still live, the National Park of Guadeloupe has concluded an agreement with Singapore. Kai and Junior, two young manatees have arrived in Guadeloupe Archipelago in August and will be part of a breeding programme. The long term goal of the project is to bring other manatees from diverse countries to avoid inbreeding and therefore having a healthy herd. Mexico, Guyana and Colombia are the next targeted countries.

*The “Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin” is a famous bay in Guadeloupe Archipelago located between north coast Basse-Terre and west coast Grande-Terre.

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