November is a special month for me. It’s my birthday, so I might be a little biased. But on the grand scheme of things, November is pretty cool (literally and figuratively). With Thanksgiving and the official beginning of the holiday season, November is when we practice being grateful and appreciate what we have in life. It’s also Manatee Awareness Month, one of my favorite animals on the planet. Gratitude and manatees. How do they tie in together?
Gratitude and Manatees
Okay, so maybe this post is going to be a stretch. Or maybe not. We’ll see. Either way, I get to geek out about manatees and talk a little about the importance of gratitude.
Gratitude is thought to be one of the most powerful tools to staying present and in the moment. If you find yourself grappling with negative thoughts, the most immediate and helpful method to get out of your head and feel better is to practice gratitude. Research shows our brains cannot simultaneously feel anxiety, depression, or negativity while also expressing hopefulness, appreciation, and optimism. Plus, studies indicate that by sharing what we are grateful for regularly, we increase our happiness by 25%, reduce stress, and even improve their healthy habits (such as exercise, sleeping longer, and eating healthier) by 33%. There’s something to be grateful for right there! (1)
But what about the manatees? Well, here you go, I’m going to demonstrate how much I appreciate manatees, what they mean to me, and why they are important to ZooFit. And for kicks and giggles, I’ll even show how manatees relate back to Harry Potter. A quadruple whammy! Let’s get to it!
Manatees Made the Difference
Years ago, when I was still hoping to get my foot in the door as an animal trainer/zookeeper, I worked as an educator for a popular marine life facility. It was the perfect foot-in-the-door job, as I rotated around the park and got to experience what different paths I could take in my career. I could be an animal trainer, and work in the shows. That’s what hooked me into marine mammals in the first place. I was five years old when I saw my first dolphin show, and I knew from that moment on what I wanted to be when I grew up. I could be an aquarist and work with sharks (cool!), sea turtles (cool), and all the fish within the park. Not too shabby.
But I ended up vying for the animal care department. The area that worked with marine mammals, but not in the shows. Why did this appeal to me? Because animal care performed manatee rescues.
I was an avid environmentalist, and I wanted my job to reflect my values. So, being able to rescue, rehabilitate, and release endangered manatees really meant something to me. I loved all sea creatures (okay, technically manatees aren’t SEA creatures…), but the idea of helping manatees sealed the deal for me. I wanted animal care, and nothing else mattered.
And to this day, I’m so grateful for this decision, and for manatees helping me with that decision. The six years I spent as an animal care specialist caring for marine mammals was among the most exciting and fulfilling in my life. I can never imagine another life for me, and I have manatees to thank for that.
A Connection to Conservation
When I started ZooFit, one of the compelling aspects of my program was the unique conservation connections with nearly every animal I’ve ever worked with. Elephants– palm oil and eating processed food, dolphins– sustainable seafood and eating healthy, polar bears– climate change and exercising. But I got stuck with manatees. One of my favorite animals, and I just couldn’t figure out the conservation connection to my healthy habits. Even some of the animals I barely worked with (sloths, bats, birds, and reptiles) I connected to eating well through my Meal Prep Like a Conservation Boss mentality.
It took several years to discover the insane conservation connection to manatees, but once I discovered it, it was hard to ignore. In 2017, 2018, and 2019 Florida experienced exceptionally strong algae blooms, which heavily impacted manatee populations. Manatee rescue centers were at full capacity with the gentle giants starving or sick from ingesting these dangerous toxins. Toxins so potent, beaches and restaurants were closed. My old colleagues were up to their ears working overtime to care for dozens of algae bloom-infected manatees. It broke my heart.
And then I read what environmentalists and independent researchers believe to be the root cause of the devastating algae blooms. Agricultural run-offs. And they believe the sugar industry to be the top polluter. (2)
There it was, the inspiration I needed to quit processed and added sugar…and my connection to manatee conservation. My sugar-eating habits weren’t horrible, but I could easily create a bright line of “never eating sugar again”, just like my bright lines with palm oil, fast food, and factory farmed meats. I love manatees, and I would do anything to protect them. Not eating sugar is a small price to pay to help these incredible creatures.
Harry Potter and the Mermaids
In late 2000, my best friend introduced me to Harry Potter. I was in a dark place in my life, but the books sparked so much joy, I pushed through (that and my best friend then pushed me to start the Harry Potter Book Club at the local Borders, which catapulted my obsession with the Boy Who Lived). This was right before I began my career working with animals. By the time I took the position in animal care, I had learned all about magical creatures from the Wizarding World– hippogriffs, fire-crabs, kneazles, and of course, merpeople.
In the Harry Potter series, merpeople are considered beings, not beasts, but I became convinced that my beloved manatees are these noble magical beings in disguise. I know what many of you are thinking…uh, PJ, have you SEEN a manatee? They look NOTHING like a mermaid.
Oh, contraire mon amis! This creature, and their relatives the dugongs are thought to be the origin of mermaid legends. When Columbus sailed to America, he wrote in his journal that he saw a mermaid. Experts are pretty sure he saw a manatee. Columbus admits they weren’t as beautiful as he thought they’d be. But I think Columbus isn’t giving manatees enough credit. They are beautiful. Gentle giants. And I’m grateful for them each and every day. (3)
Importance of Manatees
If we want to protect something, we need to fully understand their role they play, and what benefits we get from the small inconvenient behavior changes we have to install to conserve them. For me, the mere existence was enough. Connecting manatees to mermaids, and then later in life, connecting them to my health and fitness made me want to do everything I could. But that’s just me.
We would do well to show a little gratitude for manatees, especially in Florida. Manatees are herbivores, meaning they eat only plants. But they consume a LOT of vegetation. Without manatees, we wouldn’t HAVE waterways. They would be overgrown by vegetation. Boaters and people who love water recreation have the local manatee population to thank for clean and safe waterways that we enjoy so much.
So, this month I show my gratitude for another year around the sun, for my health, my passions, and my manatees. What are you grateful for? How can you improve your health and well-being by expressing your gratitude and being thankful today?
- Emmons, Robert. Gratitude Works! Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2013.
- Gotch, Arthur. Latin Names Explained. Facts on File, Inc., 1996.