The start of a brand new year and what better way to welcome it in than by doing a road trip. And as is the way of road trips, they tend to take you somewhere wonderful and my road trip led me to the Gulf of Mexico and to the manatee of Florida.
How could I best describe these West Indian manatees other than to say they are incredibly charismatic and sweetly natured. Although large and cumbersome looking, the manatee are actually very agile and quite delicate. They weigh up to 550 kg, can grow up to almost 4 meters in length (13 feet) and they are dependent on warm waters for survival.
Being near or in or under the water is where I know I belong and it is where I feel most at home and there was nothing more enchanting than to be under the water with these beautiful and very gentle one tonne creatures. Immersed in this wonderland, I saw beautiful mothers with calves who are the perfect duplicate of their parents yet so endearing. Being inquisitive creatures, the manatee will approach you. Sometimes they will be alone, sometimes in the company of other manatee or with a calf but you cannot help but let your heart tumble with love for these incredible creatures.
I was so fortunate to be in the company of Joe, a fellow conservationist, whose work is about the protection and preservation of these lovely creatures. We were on the water at dawn, the most beautiful part of the day, and long before any of the ‘big tourist’ boats were out. The tourist boats can carry up to 50 people at any one time and that sort of trip in those conditions is definitely not for me! We were also not in the clear ‘springs’ but in the open water of the river systems where the water was, at times murky, but again it was away from the tourists. I really could not have wished for anything more wonderful than to have spent hours in the water observing and enjoying these lovely sea cows.
Mid November to March 1st is the best time to see the manatee but you need to wait until the coldest of temperatures arrive. I was constantly reading and charting weather maps in anticipation of the coldest time in Florida and very fortunately, I managed to hit the coldest day. My patience and planning was well rewarded with the company of approximately 32 manatees on the day.
The Manatee are air breathing and slow moving as their swim is serene and unhurried. Given this, they spend a lot of their time on the surface of the water, and as a result, many of the manatee very sadly show the scars of propeller encounter. I have always thought, as with any healing wound, the scar suggest the hurt is finally over and recovery has perhaps begun.
Life is short and at times fragile and our world, although beautiful, can be a tragic and harsh place however we are so lucky to have the experience of this life so don’t ever waste a moment of it especially on maliciousness and spite. I do so believe with all of my heart, that every one of us has the power to make positive changes and a difference in this world. We should all strive to care for each other and to protect all living creatures through respect, compassion and love. Always measure your worth by what you do and by your humanity and your kindness because we as humans are the only ones who can do that. The potential for acknowledging that our careful acts of empathy and gentleness truly does have the greatest of impact.
The manatee’s plight is still very much in crisis. They are endangered and don’t let anyone tell you they are not. It was such an incredible privilege and experience to swim alongside the manatee and to do something like this will make you weep with immense gratitude. I was able to dive and swim and glide and gracefully somersault in the water with these gentle and beautifully natured creatures and given this, I acknowledge that all animals are depend on our compassion, our quiet and passive observation, our respect and our great love in order to survive.
And just in case I ever momentarily forget how truly fortunate I am……. swimming with the manatee will always remind me of how wonderful life really is xx