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OCEAN HEROES: Jamal A. Galves (Manateeman)

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Our new series, Ocean Heroes, showcases the fantastic marine conservation work done by individuals and groups around the world. In this edition we talk to Jamal A. Galves, also known as Manateeman.


Jamal is from Belize, specifically a small coastal village outside of Belize City named Gales Point Manatee where he grew up. He went to school at St John’s Junior College & then went on to study at the University of Belize.

Caroline: How did you get involved with marine conservation? 

Jamal: I have always been fascinated by manatees. As a young boy, I would stand on my grandparents’ lawn in Gales Point Manatee and observe manatees swim through the lagoon. I would spend long hours sitting on the dock, dreaming of one day being able to work with the gentle herbivores. At the age of 12 this dream became a reality.

I caught the attention of a field research team, led by renowned manatee conservationist Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, that visited my village every year to study manatees. The team noticed how enthusiastic I was about manatees and brought me along on their boat to observe. That one trip out resulted in me coming back day after day, eager to learn more and help wherever I could.

I have volunteered with the team since then and my dedication and commitment has only increased resulting in becoming a member of the team at age 16. Today I am the coordinator of the Belize Manatee Project Program for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, an organization that works to protect and conserve coastal ecosystems and species. Though I have had a fair amount of success I have seen the impact these animals faced due to human negligence and that continues to drive me to ensure these animals are protected

Though manatees are currently endangered, I am hopeful about the species’ survival. “As a child I never would have thought manatees would be endangered. However, I am very optimistic about their future. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do what I do.”

Ultimately, I wish to inspire the next generation through my efforts. “I believe that when young people decide to save a threatened species, it’s inspirational. That inspiration can be contagious and provide encouragement to others”. That is exactly what happened to me, Jamal, the boy who saves manatees.

Caroline: Tell us about the Belize Manatee Conservation Program

Jamal: In 1997, Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, Bob Bonde of USGS, Nicole Auil of the Belize Coastal Zone Management Authority and a Sea to Shore (now CMA Research Institute) associate research scientist, began the Belize Manatee Conservation Project.

Belize has the highest known density of Antillean manatees, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, in the world. Unfortunately, because of rapidly increasing coastal development, human-related manatee deaths are rising quickly. Poaching, once the major threat to manatees in Belize, has been replaced by boat kills and destruction of habitat as the major concerns for the survival of the species.

CMA Research Institute scientists and collaborators provide the data, expertise and scientific exchange that are used by the Belize government to establish sanctuaries, speed zones, laws and regulations that safeguards manatees and other actions that help ensure the survival of manatees in this remarkable country.

I was just a boy at age eleven when I met Buddy at the dock preparing to head out for manatee health assessments. I asked if I could join the team and began volunteering in efforts to protect the manatee of Belize. After years of expressing his devotion, interest and passion for the conservation of the endangered manatees, I was officially hired as a Field Assistant in 2008. Today, I am the Belize Manatee Conservation program coordinator.

Program Activities

  • Conduct countrywide community-related education and outreach programs coordinate the Belize Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
  • Serve as a resource and representative on relevant government and local committees, such as the Belize Manatee working group.
  • Track and monitor tagged, wild manatees.
  • Create public information brochures and posters on manatees and their habitat.
  • Communicate with the media and the public on manatee conservation issues.
  • Continue critical fundraising efforts for our programs and handle all aspects of managing, administering, and maintaining an active research and conservation program in Belize.

Examples of Program Success

  • Speed Reduction and No-Wake Zones

Implemented speed zones and installed and maintain no-wake zone signage in the waters off Belize City.

  • Decreased Poaching

Through research and awareness efforts we have decreased poaching incidents in the country. In 2010 a poaching incident in Belize was prosecuted. This is the first time anyone has been prosecuted for killing a manatee in Belize.

  • Population Monitoring

We have successfully captured and carried out health assessments on 164 individuals since 1997. The data set we have gathered over the years through consistent health assessments of this wild population is helping to provide vital information on the population’s status, and what measures and efforts still need to be taken to ensure manatees continue to exist.

  • Rescue, Rehab, and Release

Our Belize team has successfully rescued and transported many injured, sick or orphaned manatees to a rehabilitation facility for care, and have reintroduced and monitored those animals in the wild following recovery

Caroline: What is so special about manatees?  

Jamal: They are the only herbivorous mammals in Belize’s water ways and Belize has the last strong-hold on the population throughout its range.  Manatees provides critical role within Belize’s marine ecosystem as they are considered nutrients recyclers as they consume about 10% of their body weight daily which then turns to excretion that acts as nourishment for small fishes and crustaceans. I have to mention that they are very gentle, charismatic and cute.

Caroline: What success stories have you had? Can you tell us more about the baby manatee you recently rescued?

Jamal: On July 13 2020 I, Associate Research Biologist, and a team of volunteers from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, rescued a male orphan manatee calf in Belize that is estimated to be two to four weeks old. The calf was observed the previous day alone and showing signs of distressed. The baby manatee was later taken to the rehabilitation centre, to receive around-the-clock care. The young male was only 36 lbs when it came in and has shown great signs so far. He will spend the next 3-4 years in rehab until he is fit and ready to be returned into the wild.

Watch the rescue video here:

Caroline: What is the biggest threat to manatees in Belize?

Jamal: Watercraft collision, entanglement, habitat destruction, pollution and poaching

Caroline: If you could persuade people to change their lives in one way, what would you ask them to change?

Jamal: I would ask them to change their appreciation and kindness for the environment and all wildlife.  As by simply changing that and having an appreciation for those things one will naturally change other behaviours that impact both the environment and wildlife and will realize by doing so it also benefits human livelihoods.

CRB: Where can our readers find out more about the work that you do?

Keep up with Jamal Galves’ work with manatees on Instagram and Facebook.

Learn more about The Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute by clicking here, or by following them on Instagram here.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and they are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

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Cayman Bogue swim fundraiser adds sister island event for 2023

Caribbean DTA Team

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Swimmers from around the world invited to traverse ‘The Bogue’ in this 10K swim from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman for CCMI.

In September 2021, 16 local swimmers took on the challenge of swimming from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman, an open water swim of approximately 10 kilometres, to raise money for local non-profit the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI). After a very successful and fun initial experience, the organisers plan to make this an annual event to help bring endurance swimming events to the Sister Islands.

With such interest after the inaugural event, the 2023 Cayman Bogue Swim has increased the number of available registrations to 50 swimmers, has opened registration to swimmers both locally and abroad, will include several categories of registration, and will feature an expanded weekend of fun and activity in Little Cayman. Participants and their supporters can plan to join other Bogue swimmers for a welcome drinks/packet pick up event on the Friday evening, Bogue Bash: Band and BBQ celebration dinner on the Saturday evening, a tour of CCMI, and more. The weekend will begin Friday, 28th April 2023, with the actual swim starting at 8 am on Saturday, 29th April. The swim starts at Scott’s Dock, Cayman Brac and finishes at Point of Sand on Little Cayman.

Swimmers can choose to register in the competitive ‘race’ category, open water swim category, or as a relay team of two or four persons. No matter the race registration category, the Cayman Bogue Swim is an opportunity for swimmers of all ages, backgrounds, and mixed ability to share in a unique physical and mental challenge that has only been completed by a small number of swimming enthusiasts.

Swimmers can register for the event at https://donate.reefresearch.org/BogueSwim2023. Registration is US $325/person, and it includes event registration, welcome pack, event shirt, event swim cap, entry to welcome drink event/packet pick-up, locally made finisher medal, entry to the Bogue Bash: Band & BBQ event, tour of CCMI, transport via boat to the start line from Little Cayman, in-water support, and include a donation to CCMI in support of their work. Flights, lodging, all other meals, and incidentals are not included in the registration fee and are the responsibility of the participant.

The organisers of The Cayman Bogue Swim once again selected CCMI as the beneficiary of event proceeds, and unlike last year, swimmers will not have to engage in significant fundraising as part of their commitment to swimming in the event. However, anyone wishing to support the participants and their efforts to swim across the Bogue are welcome to donate to the online fundraising page: https://tinyurl.com/Bogue2023.

All donations support CCMI and their work to protect and restore coral reefs in the Cayman Islands through impactful research and innovative marine education experience for students.

For more information about the swim, please visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/caymanbogue.

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Halloween Special Part 2: PADI’s top 7 wrecks to dive in Bermuda

Caribbean DTA Team

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Just in time for Halloween, we’re back with Part 2 of our deep dive with PADI into spooky Bermuda… 

  1. The Mary Celestia

Also known as the Mary Celeste, this Civil War-era paddle steamer hit a coral reef and sank to her watery grave 1884. She’s known as one of the oldest wrecks in the area and is well-preserved considering: divers can view both her intact paddlewheel and engine, plus her bow, stern, boilers, and anchor. Resting at 55 feet below the surface, a little piece of Mary Celestia made its way above water in 2015 after a few bottles of 150-year-old wine were discovered and delivered to sommeliers for sampling in Charleston, South Carolina.

  1. The Cristóbal Colón

This enormous ship is the largest wreck in all of Bermuda. Coming in at a whopping 499 feet long, the Cristóbal Colón was a Spanish luxury liner that crashed into a coral reef off the north shore in 1936. With an abundance of marine life that’s settled in and around the wreckage strewn across 100,000 square feet of the sea floor, she’s visited by snorkelers and divers alike. Today she can be found at depths of 15 to 60 feet, but she used to peek out the surface of the water when she first sank, up until she was used for target practice in World War II.

  1. The Iristo

Only a year after the Cristóbal Colón went down, the Iristo (also known as the Aristo) followed in 1937. The captain of the Norwegian freighter is said to have been startled by the Cristóbal Colón’s wreckage, which ultimately led to the Iristo’s own untimely fate. He ordered the crew to change course but the Iristo struck a submerged reef and went down too! Her wreckage remains to this day with engine, boilers, and propeller visible amongst spectacular coral.

  1. The North Carolina

Looking for an extra spooky dive? Check out the North Carolina’s ghostly “deadeyes” in rows along her deck railings – the uncanny sailing riggings look just like cartoon skulls. At depths between 25 and 45 feet, she makes for an eerie visit whether taking a shallow dive as a beginner or diving into the deep. Hailing from Liverpool, this 250-foot English iron hull sank on New Year’s Day in 1880 when she ran aground southwest of Bermuda. Despite attempts to raise her, she remains in the depths of the sea sitting upright with a collapsed mid-section.

  1. The Montana and the Constellation

Get a two-for-one dive in when you visit the Montana and the Constellation, uniquely stacked on top of each other to the northwest of Bermuda. The Montana wreck dates back to 1863 – the Civil War era blockade runner hit a shallow reef and down she went. The Constellation followed eighty years later in 1943 and some reports state that the Montana’s bow took her down! The American cargo ship was carrying building materials and scotch when she went down, so divers can view stacks of cement bags and glassware when they explore these shallow waters.

  1. The Hermes

Explore the outside or inside of Hermes, a freighter that experienced engine trouble and was abandoned by her crew. Built in 1943, the lonely ship was deserted until 1984 when she was acquired by the Bermuda Dive Association and turned into a sunken artificial reef. She’s known as a highly photogenic beauty with fantastic visibility. Fully intact with her mast pointing to the surface, Hermes has come a long way from desertion as one of Bermuda’s most popular dive sites.

  1. The King George

Another lonely and ghostly ship left to sink to the bottom of the sea, the King George is a large dredger that was built for the Bermuda Government. After arriving on the island in 1911, she served a few years before being towed out to sea and left to sink in 1930 when she was no longer needed for harbor operations. Fully intact and upright, divers can circle her from end to end on the quiet ocean floor.

Ready for a Spooky Dive in Bermuda?

If you want to dive into the spooky depths of Bermuda’s water, there are several different types of PADI certification to get you there.

Formal training for wreck diving is especially important for your safety as it involves special procedures, techniques, and equipment. The PADI Wreck Diver Specialty Course covers all the fundamentals and includes four scuba dives to give you practice in the open water.

Enrolling is simple: you must be at least 15 years old and have earned your PADI Adventure Diver certification or higher. PADI’s wreck dive certification covers the basics, from navigating the inside and outside of a wreck to the appropriate gear you’ll need for wreck diving. You’ll also learn how to plan and map a wreck site along with special techniques to protect the site’s integrity.

You complete your certification after four wreck dives with an instructor, and away you go! The eerie deep blue of Bermuda awaits…

Images: DIVE BERMUDA

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