SEACOW is a conservation program directed towards the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) in the Costa Rican Caribbean. Its objectives will be achieved through community empowerment and research support by professionals from different areas of work. The name, “Seacow”, has its roots in the Limonan Creole dialect (Patuá) which means “sea cow”, as the manatee is popularly known in the region. The name is given to the program in order to recognize the value of the Caribbean culture and the Patuá, so that the communities can more easily identify with the project.
- Manatee as a focal species
Sirenid populations are threatened around the world (Meirelles, Carvalho & Marmontel, 2018; IUCN, 2020). The West Indian manatee (T. m. manatus) is considered an endangered species as of July 1975 according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN, 2020).In the country, on July 29, 2014, the manatee was declared a national symbol of marine fauna. Despite this, there are few published efforts directed towards the manatee and its conservation in Costa Rica.
The manatee is a generalist herbivorous aquatic mammal, with a diet that includes: seagrasses, water lilies, and other kinds of marine or terrestrial vegetation; some macroinvertebrates have been reported (Meirelles, Carvalho & Marmontel, 2018; Reid, 2009). It is considered as an environmental indicator due to its habitat requirements (Smith, 1993) and as a potential farmer and biocontroller of aquatic/terrestrial plants that are part of its diet (Würsig, Therwissen & Kovacs, 2017).
The manatee is a vulnerable species, with population decline, due to anthropogenic causes that contribute to habitat loss or alteration by construction, crop expansion and polluted effluents (Auil et al., 2011). Likewise, hunting of the species for consumption or for its skin caused a large decline in previous populations and is still a threat (Deutsch et al., 2008, Meirelles, Carvalho & Marmontel, 2018); however, the major cause of its mortality is due to accidental causes such as collision with boats and incidental fishing.