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Rainforest Manatees

Information about Rainforest Animals, Environment and Earth Science in Costa Rica


Ecotourism in the Tortuguero

An increase in ecotourism has led to greater boat traffic, which kills or injures a large number of manatees. Today, their numbers are dwindling. The manatees will always be in danger of local extinction until boat traffic through this important habitat decreases.


The canals and coastal waterways along the northern Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica are home to a small population of West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus). 

They flourished in this area until about 1974, when several changes
in their habitat caused a drastic reduction in the population. First, the dredging and building of a national series of canals which connect Limón and Barra
del Colorado.

Endangered Species

Ironically, manatees are being threatened by conservation designed to save a single species: the green turtle. Although manatees have returned to the area, they are in between a steadily expanding agricultural frontier to the west (banana plantations), and green turtle ecotourism from the east. Manatees are caught in the middle.


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Costa Rica's Manatees

A truly cute-looking Costa Rican mammal is the manatee, which looks like a walrus except that it doesn't have any tusks. This chubby swimmer once inhabited several waterways in Costa Rica and in many areas of the American continent. However, it was hunted almost to extinction because of its tender meat and its hide. Today, it can only be found near the South of the United States and in a few places of Central America.  §

Trichechus manatus 

Manatee Costa Rica


Recently claimed to be extinct in Costa Rica, a population of manatees has been located in the rivers and lagoons adjacent to the world famous green turtle nesting beach at Tortuguero National Park.  Manatees are also being protected at the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. The rediscovery of a manatee population is very significant, because it shows the importance of this particular location as a preferred habitat.

Fast motor boats full of tourists heading to the beaches of Tortuguero (to see the turtles) race through the lagoons, rivers and canals from Moin to Tortuguero and sometimes collide with slow moving manatees. More importantly, they scare manatees away and chase them to the backwaters, where motorized boats do not go. Pesticides used on banana plantations kill fish and may be causing aquatic changes, especially in these shallow backwater areas.

Manatees are another potential ecotourism attraction that can produce much needed revenue and jobs for the community. Because manatees rely on the lagoons and canals behind the beach, this important habitat must be protected from continued development of banana plantations and road construction.  §

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UN-CEP Technical Report Kids Info - Manatees