A guest blog by The Scuba Genies from The Scuba Place…
During a visit to Florida, Mona and John from The Scuba Place swam with manatees and learned some very interesting facts.
John and I made a trip to the USA this Spring and had the opportunity to check out all that Florida has to offer travelling divers. We had seen manatees in various Florida marinas over the years but had never had the opportunity to swim with them so our first stop after visiting family was to Crystal River, just a little over an hour north of Tampa International Airport. Crystal River is one of the few places you can legally swim with manatees in their natural habitat. We booked a 3 hour swim with Fun 2 Dive with a 10:00 am departure. Fun 2 Dive asked us to arrive 15 minutes early to check in and participate in a short educational briefing. We arrived with our camera gear in tow and the staff asked to view a video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service titled “Crystal River Refuge’s ‘Manatee Manners’ for Photographers and Videographers”.
Between November and April every year this area is home to the largest aggregation of manatees in a natural environment. We were there mid-May but were confident we would have an amazing experience! And did we ever! Our guide for the day Dani, is a self-proclaimed manatee nerd! She has had a passion for manatees since the age of 13 and loves what she does! Our group of 10 loaded up on the Fun 2 Dive bus and took the short 5-minute trip to the marina. We boarded the pontoon and motored out into the nearby inlet. There were a few other boats in the area and as one boat was moving off, they let us know that there were three manatees in the area. Armed with our pool noodles, snorkel gear and cameras, we carefully entered the water and were lucky enough to find a mother and baby!
We spent the next few hours with our faces in the water amazed by the encounter. These beautiful yet endangered animals are gentle giants found in inlets, marinas, and coastal shallows. Often bearing numerous scars from boat propellors, these sea-cows are super cute in an ugly way but so much fun to be in the water with! Don’t be fooled by their size and slowness – when they want to move, they can put on a real burst of speed! And while we could have spent all day with them, watching the baby nurse and then munch on some sea grass in just a few inches of water, our time came to an end, and we loaded back up on the boat.
We have to thank Dani for her enthusiasm and endless knowledge of manatees!
Here are 10 facts Chloe researched for us that we had to share:
- Manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes!
Although manatees live in the water, they need to breathe air to survive. Common sense, right? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that manatees don’t use their mouth to breathe. By breathing through their nostrils, they can achieve a higher rate of exchange of air, exchanging about 90% of the air in their lungs, whereas humans only exchange about 10%. This enables a manatee to hold its breath for longer.
- The oldest manatee in the world died at age 69.
The average lifespan of a manatee is 40 years old. However, Snooty exceeded this! Snooty the manatee from Florida was born in captivity and raised in Bishop Museum of Science and Nature’s Parker Aquarium. Due to hand rearing, Snooty was never released to the wild. Snooty sadly died two days after his 69th birthday, which was actually down to human error. It is thought that Snooty could’ve reached 100 years old!
- Sea cow? More like Sea Elephant!
It is suggested that manatees have evolved from four-legged land mammals over millions of years.
The last ancestor they share with elephants lived about 60 million years ago.
- Man vs Food finds potential new host
An incredibly impressive fact is that a manatee eats around a tenth of its body weight in food each day! Let’s all appreciate that they can weigh up to 450kg and their diet is predominately made up of seagrass, which weighs hardly anything!! Hence why manatees are munching all day, they’ve a job to do! That’ll give any Man vs Food challenge a run for its money. Their diet is a good indicator of an ecosystem’s health. A full up manatee suggests its immediate environment is flourishing.
Each species of manatee is a member of the Sirenius family, which shares a common ancestor with the elephant, aardvark and small gopher-like hyrax.
- There’s no looking back for a Manatee. Seriously, they can’t turn their heads.
As manatees don’t possess the same neck vertebra as humans, they can’t rotate their heads like we can. This means if they want to look back or to the sides, they must move their whole body. What an effort!
- Manatees have SIX senses
Manatees have tiny hairs distributed sparsely all over their body that are known as vibrissae. Studies have suggested that these tactile body hairs can be just as sensitive as whiskers and can help analyse surroundings underwater and detect vibrations in the water. Having this sixth sense is great help to manatees, as they are not known to have 20:20 vision, particularly at night.
- Who are you calling fat?
Although they may look fat and blubbery, manatees don’t have a thick layer of fat for insulation; that’s why they prefer warmer waters! So, if it’s not fat, what is it? Well, the reason for their size is due to their stomach and intestines taking up a lot of space.
- Dentist? No thanks!
Manatees’ teeth often get worn down through their relentless chewing and munching but this doesn’t cause concern. Manatees grow and lose teeth throughout their entire lives, just like elephants. Older teeth fall out at the front whilst new teeth grow through at the back of their mouths.
- Causes of death
This is not such a fun fact. Whilst manatees do not have any natural predators in the wild, humans have had a large part of putting this species at risk of extinction. According to the United States Fishing and Wildlife Services, around 99 manatee deaths each year are related to human activities, especially boat injuries. Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 to help lower this number.
- Pregnancy Glow
Once female manatees reach the age of 5, they are ready to mate. It’s almost twice as long for males, taking a further 4 years to be ready. Take your time guys! Once pregnant, the gestation period for a manatee can be between 11 and 12 months. Manatees typically only have on calf per pregnancy, although rare, twins have been born too. Once born, a calf can weigh up to a whopping 32kg and will stay with its mother for around 2 years. One last bizarre fact we found out whilst on our trip, is that the mothers’ teats are found on the joint of the flippers. Check out the image below…
Would you like to swim with manatees? Dive the Florida coasts? Spend the day with Mickey Mouse? The Scuba Place can arrange a custom trip for you! Let us put together a Fly-Drive-Dive holiday that ticks all the boxes!
Keep your eyes on this space as we headed over to the East coast of Florida to dive Key Largo, West Palm Beach and Jupiter and we’ve got stories to share!!! Come Dive with Us!
Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.
Turtles of the Riviera Maya & Cozumel
A blog by Pro Dive International
Plenty of empty shells of recently hatched turtle eggs were spotted by our divers at Sabalos. They had been washed off shore onto the reef after the baby turtles had dug out of their nest at night and swam off into the sea.
The turtle nesting season on the Riviera Maya and in Cozumel happens between May and October, which means that you may be lucky to see some nests or even hatchlings during your stay with us.
Six out of the seven sea turtle species worldwide visit Mexico every year. We are lucky enough to get to see Green Turtles and Loggerhead Turtles regularly during our dives, as they are in search of food and a good clean.
The reefs and ecosystems here provide a great number of tasty snacks for a turtle, for example seagrass, sponges, crustaceans and many more. And while the turtles pass through the reef, they receive a top-notch cleaning service from many of the local fishes who feed on their parasites and algae growth.
6 Turtle Fun Facts
- Green turtles are so named because of their green colored fat caused by their rich diet of seagrass.
- Green Turtles are the largest hard-shell turtles in the world. The largest known green turtle weighed 395 kg/ 871 lbs, with a shell that measured more than 152 cm/ 5 ft.
- Loggerhead Turtles are so named for their massive broad muscular heads.
- Adult males are normally easy to distinguish from females because of their long tails visible extending past their shell.
- Female turtles normally return to the exact same location where they were born to lay their eggs.
- The sex of a baby turtle is determined by the temperature at which the egg is kept.
Turtles are regular visitors to many of our dive sites, but they are most commonly found at Tortuga – this dive site is even named turtle in Spanish! It’s located just off shore from our dive center at the Occidental Xcaret and easily accessible by boat from any of our Playa Del Carmen locations.
Moreover, for those of you who are not divers, we are lucky enough to have some extensive seagrass beds where green turtles love to hang out and eat, which is an easy snorkel off shore during one of our tours with a guide who is licensed to enter those protected areas.
Besides observing them underwater, you may be lucky to find some turtle nests in front of your resort on the Riviera Maya or in Cozumel. Hotel employees usually rope them off to ensure their protection.
Turtle conservation projects are a great alternative to learn more about their behaviors, importance for the marine environment, how you can help protect them, and to observe nests or turtles first hand:
- Centro Ecológico Akumal – an NGO with a 28-year history
- Punta Sur Eco Beach Park – a 247-acre ecological park in Cozumel
- Sea Turtle Conservation Project Tulum by CONAP/ Flora, Fauna y Cultura de México
Every sea turtle species on earth nests on Mexico’s beaches (save one that is only found in Australia). Consequently, Mexico is known as the sea turtle capital of the world and its turtle protection laws are so important on a global scale.
Current Mexican law classifies all sea turtle species as endangered.
- Turtles can’t be killed for their meat, skin, shell or eggs.
- Native vegetation can’t be removed in nesting habitats, to stop erosion.
- New regulations call for moving, changing or eliminating any light sources that illuminate a nesting beach, as baby turtles can become disoriented from finding their way to the ocean.
- Vehicles can have a maximum weight of 300 kg on nesting beaches and only be used for patrolling and management of the nesting site.
- Recently outlawed were turtle release events, as many places kept the hatchlings in confinement for several days until a sufficient number of participants had signed up for this activity. Upon release, they were too weak to handle the surf and avoid predators.
All of these and many more regulations help protect beaches, nests, female sea turtles, their eggs and hatchlings to make it a safer place for them.
How to start your Turtle Adventure
Let’s discover some turtles together during our dives! If you are not a diver, why not sign up for a PADI course; or join our Mexican Snorkeling Adventure at 15% OFF starting from Playa del Carmen or Tulum, if booked online until 16/09/21 & redeemed until Dec 22, 2021 with reference to this blog!
Celebrate International Manatee Day by helping Manatees near and far
Help manatees near and far on Tuesday, September 7th, International Manatee Day. Save the Manatee Club, the world’s leading manatee conservation organization, encourages boaters, homeowners, and caring manatee lovers to play a role in protecting manatees and their aquatic habitat.
At this time of year, manatees can be found in all kinds of waterways around the southeastern U.S., from freshwater rivers and lakes to saltwater coastal areas, estuaries, and canals. With the holiday weekend bringing busy boat traffic, boaters are urged to boat slowly in posted manatee speed zones and watch carefully for manatees on the move.
“Manatees prefer shallow waters that are rich with vegetation,” explains Patrick Rose, Aquatic Biologist and Executive Director for Save the Manatee Club. “When we are boating or recreating in their aquatic habitat, we must take care not to disturb them and especially not to hurt them.” Blunt impacts from accidental watercraft collisions are a leading cause of manatee injuries and mortalities in Florida.
However, it’s critical aquatic habitat loss that is the greatest long-term threat to the manatee’s survival. Save the Manatee Club asks homeowners to do their part to protect aquatic habitat by not fertilizing their yards, especially during the rainy summer season. Fertilizers and other yard chemicals can enter waterways and fuel the harmful algal blooms that kill seagrasses that manatees and other species need to survive. “What you put on your yard affects their lives,” says Rose.
Write to your elected officials to urge them to help manatees in Florida at savethemanatee.org/algae#tips, then learn more about manatees around the world. Save the Manatee Club donations have supported West Indian manatee conservation efforts in Belize, Mexico, and the Wider Caribbean as well as West African manatee research in Senegal and Cameroon. They have also sponsored rescues and health assessments for the elusive Amazonian manatee in Peru and Venezuela. Read more and donate to the International Rescue Fund at savethemanatee.org/international.
Responsible boaters, homeowners, and manatee advocates all play an important role in protecting manatees at home and abroad. Here’s a quick list of resources to review that can help anyone be a voice for imperiled manatees:
- Report sick, injured, orphaned, or dead manatees to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) by calling 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC). Watch informative videos and get resources for your state at savethemanatee.org/rescue.
- Obey posted speed zones, wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare on the water’s surface, avoid boating over shallow areas and seagrass beds, stash your trash, and never touch, feed, or give water to manatees.
- Request free tip cards, waterproof boating banners, waterfront signage, and other resources from Save the Manatee Club at savethemanatee.org/resources.
- Take a break from fertilizer and learn other tips that reduce pollution at savethemanatee.org/algae.
- Educators – gear up for the school year with free materials and a virtual guest speaker presentation from Save the Manatee Club. Visit savethemanatee.org/education.