The Study Area
Drowned Cayes, Belize

Katie and Caryn's manatee study area is the Drowned Cayes (pronounced "keys") off the coast of Belize. The Drowned Cayes are a string of mangrove islands about 13 km long, between Belize City and the Barrier Reef. They are located about 8 km east of Belize City and less than 2 km west of the Barrier Reef. Click on the map for a larger image.

The Drowned Cayes got their name because the islands are mostly made up of red mangroves, supported by their big red prop roots, which are "drowned" in seawater at high tide. There is almost no true ground. As the mangrove roots slow down the flow of seawater, sediment and organic matter settles among the roots creating a marshy and wet substrate known as peat.



The Drowned Cayes were chosen as the study site for three reasons:

  1. They offer an excellent opportunity to observe manatee behavior below water. The water is relatively clear and there are a variety of habitats, suggesting a variety of behavior.
  2. There is a relatively large population of manatees using the area, which is very close to Belize City and constantly threatened by boat traffic and development.
  3. The government agencies and conservation organizations in Belize recognize that the Drowned Cayes are important habitat and want more data to promote conservation in the area as human impacts increase.

When compared to other places (such as Florida), there isn't much disturbance from human activities, yet. For example, there is no commercial swimming with manatees allowed in Belize. This enables Katie and Caryn to observe the manatees in their natural habitats and undisturbed by people.