Visit a Manatee Rehabilitation Center
I love animals, and I have a special place in my heart for sea mammals – especially if I get to see them in the wild. Although, we have seen wild manatees only a few times around Puerto Rico.
The manatee species is endemic to Puerto Rico, but they are in danger of extinction due to their being struck by motorboats and from the loss of coastal habitat. Fewer than 600 manatees remain in the waters around Puerto Rico. So, sometimes, these amazing creatures need a little help from us humans.
That is where the Centro de Conservación de Manatíes en la Universidad Inter Americana de Puerto Rico (Manatee Conservation Center at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico) comes in. Among other things, they help out manatees in need of medical attention. You can go visit their manatee rehabilitation center and see the amazing work they are doing … and meet the manatees “in person”!
The Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center (PRMCC) is located on the Bayamon campus of Inter American University of Puerto Rico. It is a small place, run by Dr Mignucci, where he and a group of dedicated volunteers rescue, rehabilitate, and care for hurt, or orphaned manatees from Puerto Rico and the surrounding Caribbean area.
The primary goal of the Center is to rehabilitate the manatees until the are healthy enough to be released back into the wild. The secondary goal of the Center is to educate people about manatees, and to promote responsible actions toward our ocean’s inhabitants through educational tours of the facility.
As of our visit in February 2015, they had 3 manatees at the Center — 2 young Caribbean manatees (Aramaná and Yuisa) and an adult Florida manatee (Guacara). Their residents change as rehabilitated manatees are released back to the ocean and new ones arrive at the Center.
Aramaná was orphaned soon after birth, and was rescued from the Balneario de Dorado. Yuisa was rescued just after birth (also orphaned) in 2013 in Loíza. Guacara was rescued from Florida, where he was badly hurt by a motorboat. The pups will be rehabilitated and returned to the sea, but Guacara was too badly injured and needs to remain at the center indefinitely. I guess he is their official mascot!
The famous Moises and Tuque (both of whom still seen in the waters around Puerto Rico) are some of their success stories.
We were greeted by Jessica (who runs the Center’s education program) when we arrived at the Center. She started right away explaining to us about the facility, who they are, and what they do. She took us into the “kitchen area” where she told us about the dietary requirements of the manatees, and the food they feed to the manatees at the Center.
Adult manatees can eat about 100 pounds of fruit and vegetables per day! They need to calculate all the caloric needs of each animal for each meal to make sure they are getting all the needed calories and nutrients. They are still are bottle feeding Yuisa milk — she is just starting to eat solid food.
How much they eat at each meal is monitored and logged. They have special tools to help teach the pups what they would learn naturally from their mother in the wild … like how to forage for food off the ocean floor. It is not as easy as just throwing some lettuce into a pool!
After learning about the manatees’ diets, we walked through the “lab/office” area. We met more of the volunteers while they were doing their daily tasks.
The Center is involved in many aspects of manatee conservation, such as population counts, and tracking released animals. They are affiliated with other “wildlife” agencies in Puerto Rico, Federal agencies in the States, and in the Caribbean.
We then made our way to the outside pool area where the manatees are kept. Jessica explained all about the water filtration system, the typical food manatees eat in the wild, lots of information about manatees in general, the equipment they use for rehabilitation, and the tracking equipment (transponders, etc) that are attached to the manatees when they are finally released.
Next, we got to “meet” the manatees, and learn their stories of how they ended up at the Center.
These gentle creatures are so interesting, and the PRMCC has gone through so much work to make the manatees’ lives better. In 2012, they made a special tank for Guacara (who can’t float due to a collapsed lung). He is handi-capable and has taught himself to “walk” along the bottom (using his “arms”) and to use his tail to “stand” to get himself to the surface to breathe and eat.
All during our visit, Jessica answered our million questions. They have lots of school classes through the Center (as well as families), and she does a great job teaching and answering questions. This education of the “next generation” is going to be the make it or break it for the future of manatees. She teaches respect and empathy for the manatees, and the need to protect their environment.
People need learn that, while it is exciting to see these creatures in the wild, they must do it in a way that does not disturb or harass the manatees. As more people become aware of conservation, the better everyone’s lives will be.
Recently, Puerto Rico has designated the manatee as their national mammal, and September 7th is the official “Day of the Conservation of the Caribbean Manatee in Puerto Rico”. Additionally, about 100 reduce speed buoys have been placed in the manatees’ natural habitat.
It is a start, and with the help of PRMCC, the manatees will hopefully have a fighting chance for a survival!
“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught”. — Baba Dioum
Your Donation Matters
The people who work at the PRMCC are volunteers, and the Center receives no funding for neither the feeding nor care of the manatees.
They offer tours of the Center in exchange for a donation for the manatees. Those donations are used to provide food, vitamins, and health care for the manatees while they are being cared for at the Center.
Tours can be conducted for school groups, or for individuals (families, etc). Tours are available in English or Spanish.
Cash only! Each type of visit involves a donation per person, teacher, and/or companion. For school educational visits, the donation is $6 per person, teacher and/or companion. For the general public, the donation is $12 for kids (14 years of age or younger), and $18 everyone else. There is free parking at the Center.
Tours of the Center are offered Tuesday through Saturday, at 9am, 10:30am, and 1pm. Advance reservations are required.
The tour lasts about 1½ hours. They ask you to arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled tour.
You can contact the PRMCC by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org ask questions or to get more info.
You can call the PRMCC at 787-279-1912 x2070 for more information.
The Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center is located in the Bayamon campus of the Inter American University. To get there from San Juan, take Route 22 west to Route 5 south to Route 199 west to Route 840 south. The university is on Route 840. The PRMCC is just a little way through the gate, on the left. It is a one-story building that says “Conservation” on the the front.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.
- Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center: (18.350998, -66.181335)
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