Cuba joins efforts to save manatees. Next, maybe, people will be on the list for saving…
A few years ago, as Anmari Alvarez planned her undergrad thesis at the University of Havana, she had to discard her first choice as a subject. She could not write about Cuban manatees, because even the most elementary research on the local population was too scant.
Although she went with bottle-nosed dolphins instead, Alvarez never abandoned her first love.
For almost 10 years, she has worked with eminent manatee researcher James “Buddy” Powell of Sarasota to lay the groundwork for studying manatees in her native land.
In June, the two became part of an historic breakthrough. Powell’s small research group, Sea to Shore Alliance, in collaboration with the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Investigation, started the first effort in Cuba to track manatees using satellite technology.
For Cuban research, this is a big deal. A few times a year for a decade, Powell and others have measured captured manatees and tested blood, but the inability to determine where those manatees traveled and what they did when they got there has left gaping holes in the scientific log.
The new tracking devices, when belted to a manatee’s tail, transmit signals to a satellite, similar to how the GPS system works in a car. Powell logs on to a website, which maps the animal’s movement. Although the tag sends no signal when it is under water, Powell says the lack of transmission indicates specific behavior that scientists can interpret after years of similar tracking in Florida.
Powell predicts that Cuba, a large island with favorable geographic features, eventually will be recognized as one of the most important habitats for manatees in the entire Caribbean. […]