Protection of the West African Manatee

Manati

A future for those who witnessed ancient times

Sea cows have been around for some 50 million years. Now they are on the brink of extinction. OceanCare supports conservation programmes for the West African Manatee and calls on the United Nations to act.

Manatees – the „gardeners of the seas“ – spend most of the day under water grazing and sleeping. They are unhurried witnesses to an ancient past. Today, there are less than 10’000 West African Manatees left.

While the West African Manatee is protected by the national laws of all the countries it lives in, and since  2013 also by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), no specific conservation measures have been undertaken so far. Almost a decade ago the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) negotiated an agreement to protect manatees and costal dolphins, but the agreement has been given no energy or commitment. Manatees are still being hunted for their meat, they suffocate in gillnets and increasingly lose their habitats.

Pioneering Work in Cooperation with Local Population

Supported by OceanCare, CBD-Habitat carries out research on one of the last manatee strongholds in the Orango National Park, a group of islands off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. A survey in 2011 among fishermen and farmers identified 45 areas frequented by the manatees, most of them around the islands of Orango and Meneque. The local people reported a total of 326 sightings.

CBD-Habitat launched a systematic observation project along four important rivers. Based on these findings, they will develop and present to the local authorities a package of measures to protect the manatee. As many manatees get caught in fishing nets, information on more careful fishing methods is provided. However, the manatees are also threatened by the nets of foreign industrial fishers that are illegally active in Orango National Park.

Water and coastal pollution is an increasing cause for concern. OceanCare has translated the information leaflet on marine plastic pollution into French and Portuguese and distributed it among both residents and tourists in Guinea Bissau.

In 2012, OceanCare presented the manatee protection project in Guinea-Bissau at the World Conservation Congress in Korea calling on the United Nations to intensify their efforts to protect the species.

Addressing the problem of rising aquatic bushmeat

For generations, terrestrial and aquatic bushmeat consumption has been sustainable, but modern pressures and growing human population has changed the balance. Changing climate, scarcity of other meat sources and community displacement by industrial mining, commercial forestry, palm oil plantations and distant water industrialised fisheries has forced many communities into marginal areas, and their reliance on bushmeat has grown.

Until recent decades, the intentional wild harvest of aquatic mammals, reptiles and amphibians was comparatively small. At least manatee, five species of turtle, seven species of dolphin and one species of crocodile are regularly hunted and consumed as aquatic bushmeat. It is likely many more species are hunted and consumed as well.  Some key species (manatee and marine turtles) are threatened, and the more abundant species face localised extinctions due to over hunting.

OceanCare is engaged within the Aquatic Mammal Working Group, of the CMS Scientific Council, to prepare a report on aquatic bushmeat.

In West Africa, we are working towards building public awareness campaign with posters in French and English to inform the local community that hunting is illegal and that manatees need protection. We are also working with government officials to develop long term solutions.