Famous French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau He used to say “You only protect what you love, and you only love what you know”, which is a quote we can apply to almost any area of our lives but that makes even more sense when we talk about nature, biodiversity and the environment. In order to properly care for and protect endangered species, it is necessary to discover, know and understand them… What we do not know does not exist and therefore we do not even appreciate it.
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Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus) is a wonderful herbivorous aquatic mammal that inhabits the river systems and coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Don't confuse their fat appearance with their skinny appearance, because manatees are actually really agile in the water and have been observed doing turns, spins, somersaults and, if the occasion requires it, capable of moving at speeds exceeding 30 kilometers. per hour.
Their behavior is usually friendly and inquisitive since there are not very many natural predators in their environment. Despite this, the Academy of Sciences of Mexico He classified it as an “endangered species on the list of priority species for conservation in Mexico.” The latest estimates indicate this There are fewer than 2,500 Antillean manatees left in the world., distributed mainly in Mexico and Belize. The reasons for their vulnerability come exclusively from human activity and include frequent collisions with boats, poaching, the destruction of their habitat and, above all, the high pollution of the waters in which they live.
That's why it's encouraging to discover little-known colonies and groups of manatees, like the one found by the diver and photographer. Klaus Thiemann While exploring A flooded cave system in the Mexican state of Quintana Rooon the Yucatan Peninsula.
Manatees move freely through this complex underwater system that extends through hundreds of kilometers of caves carved by water into limestone rock. From time to time, the ceilings of some caves collapse and form gaps filled with fresh water.
Thimann thought That manatee maybe They have been in this area for generations, swimming without problems in its crystalline waters… but this newly discovered habitat is already threatened by progress in construction. Tourism and infrastructure projects are being developed that will soon put the region's aquatic species at risk. A train line has been proposed that would increase the population of this popular tourist destination, and its construction could block the flow of water in the system, depriving it of oxygen and potentially trapping manatees. Wastewater and sewage systems reduce water quality and will affect the underwater environment.
But there is still hope, Thimann says.And documenting the cave's dense underwater habitat may be the first step in protecting the manatees that live there… Again, Cousteau said, to appreciate it you have to know.
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References and more information:
David Stock “Manatees discovered in pristine cave habitat but threatened underwater” New Scientist (2024)
David StockDive with manatees in unexplored caves of MexicoNew Scientist (2024)
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