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Marie-Lys Bacchus: Master's student. Graduated 2007.


Characterization of resting holes and use by the Antillean Manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus)

Click here to open her Thesis (pdf)


Bacchus, M-L. C., Dunbar, S. G., and Self-Sullivan, C. 2009. Characterization of resting holes and their use by the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) in the Drowned Cayes, Belize. Aquatic Mammals. 35(1): 62 - 71. (pdf)
Vancouver Aquarium AquaNews series "Home of the Manatee"

You probably know other people like me. I call us “Shamu-lovers.” You’ve seen us before, at Sea World. We were the kids who stood there, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, faces pressed up to the glass, watching as Shamu swam by. We were the ones who spent hours petting the stingrays and feeding the dolphins. We were the kids who went home from that summer vacation to Florida or California, and spent the next 6 months drawing dolphins and octopi all over our school notebooks. Well, now that I’m “all grown up,” I’m living the Shamu-lover’s dream! I am doing field research on marine mammals – watching them, swimming with them, learning about them. And guess what? It’s a lot of hard work!

Marie-Lys Bacchus on a typical day of research,watching for manatees and recording data from a small boat among
the mangrove islands of the Drowned Cayes.

My project’s goal is to expand the field of knowledge about the Antillean manatee, a “cousin” of the better-studied Florida manatee. As humankind’s use of the ocean continues to expand, it is becoming more important to carefully detail the ecological needs of all the marine life which we may impact, in order to improve habitat conservation efforts. I am interested in providing guidance to the conservation programs of Belize and other Central/South American countries whose shores border the habitats of the Antillean manatee.

When we spot a manatee, all we usually see is part of the nose rising out of the water to take a breath. In this instance, we were lucky to see the whole outline of the manatee right under the water.

During the summers of 2005 and 2006, I conducted 10-week field expeditions along the Drowned Cayes, just east off the coast of Belize City, Belize. There among the mangrove islands, just a short distance from the world’s second-largest barrier reef, I (along with groups of Earthwatch scientists and volunteers from around the world) observed and measured the behaviors of manatees. My area of focus was on the “resting holes,” small depressions in the ocean substrate that are repeatedly used by various manatees to rest and sleep.

There is nothing more beautiful than coming across
a manatee while snorkeling at the reef where the
water is so clear. But who is really watching who?


My project involved over 500 hours of observations at these resting holes, taking various weather and water measurements, measuring the resting holes, and above all, watching for manatees. Now, spending long afternoons sitting on a small motorboat in the middle of a deserted lagoon watching for marine animals sounds like a Shamu-lover’s paradise… but it’s hot and tiring, too! I learned a lot about the patience, persistence, and luck that every researcher needs to have in order to carry out a successful field project. And after a long day of work, there is nothing more fun and rewarding than taking a swim along the mangroves or going snorkeling at the reef.

Now that the field work is over, I am spending my time analyzing my data and writing my findings as my master’s thesis. My goal is to graduate in June of 2007, and to continue learning and working with the amazing animals and nature around us.

One of the amazing sunsets from our little island. It was such a great experience living in a little cabin on a small island where you learn to enjoy the simple things, like playing card games with people, simple foods, and beautiful sunsets.

Click here for a collection of field-journal entries over my 2 summers in Belize – 2005 & 2006