Distribution, habitat, and conservation status of the West Indian Manatee Trichechus manatus in French Guiana
Interview surveys of 116 coastal residents and fishermen and surveys by motorboat were conducted in 2000 and 2001 in French Guiana in order to assess the distribution, habitats and conservation status of the West Indian manatee Trichechus manatus. There were 72 reported sightings of manatees, and we made 10 sightings during river surveys. Interviews suggested that manatees may be less abundant than in the recent past, but are still present and regularly sighted all along the coast and in estuaries up to 80 km inland. The main reason for any recent decline is probably hunting for meat, pressures from development and, in some areas, pollution from maritime traffic. Although only opportunistically caught, manatees are still poached. In some areas they are killed for cultural beliefs, but only on a small scale. The main habitat for the manatee in French Guiana is estuarine mangroves. A survey at Coswine, an area where manatees have been sighted year-round, indicated that this mangrove area is characterized by biotic and abiotic factors within the range known to provide suitable habitat for the species. However, habitats for manatees in French Guiana are limited and receive little formal protection, and the species' status is based more on fortuitous protection than on any active conservation. Public awareness programmes for the manatee are currently being developed by local NGOs, but a regional conservation programme is also required.