An Antillean manatee swims in Belize's clear, coastal waters.
These "sea cows" are grazers who each day eat a tenth of their own enormous weight (up to 1,300 pounds or 600 kilograms) in aquatic grasses, weeds, or algae. Though they are born underwater and spend their entire life swimming, these marine mammals must breathe air at the surface.
This biological requirement, and their tendency to move slowly, has made them vulnerable to harm from poachers and passing motorboats.
But Belize has established three manatee protected areas and a stranding network and rehabilitation facility. The nation also supports manatee research.
"We are learning more about their movements, including that they do travel between Belize and Mexico, and (their) genetic makeup," said Gomez. "I will be using this new information, including these aerial survey results, to produce a revised Manatee Recovery Plan for the conservation of the species in Belize."
(See pictures of freshwater mammals.)