A local Girl Scout troop is trying to raise public awareness about manatees in the Lowcountry.
Troop 772, of Bluffton, was working to earn its Bronze Award, the highest award for Junior Girl Scouts, when the girls in the troop decided to focus on the manatees.
"There are tons of manatees in the Bluffton area and the Hilton Head (Island) area," said assistant troop leader Sue Barry. "There are a lot up toward the Charleston area and in Beaufort, and because the water's so murky, no one can see them."
Part of the Bronze Award requires the troop to help its community in some way. The girls were interested in helping with sea turtles, but when they learned about the manatees in the area, they were hooked. Members of the troop started a letter-writing campaign, contacted local marinas and taught peers about their newfound interests. The troop also created a display for the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.
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Manatees are large, gray aquatic animals found in shallow rivers and coastal areas. Most manatees in the United States live on the coasts of Florida, but they can be found as far north as Massachusetts during the summer, according to www.SaveTheManatee.org, the website for the Save the Manatees Club. An adult male manatee is more than 9 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds.
According to the Save the Manatees Club, most manatees die from human-related incidents such as collisions with watercraft. Manatees also get sick or die from ingesting fishhooks, litter or other unnatural items.
Harbormasters in the Hilton Head area say the boaters in the area are warned about the manatees, but they try to keep the manatees' locations quiet so they are left alone.
Barry's daughter Jessica was one of the girls who worked on the project.
"Our ultimate goal is to raise awareness for the manatees so there's more manatee than there are now," the 11-year-old said. "We're trying to get people to see manatees for the first time. We want them to learn and see them."
A small display featuring a blue display board with pictures and informational pieces sits in the corner of The Sea Island Room in the Discovery House at the Coastal Discovery Museum. A large, yellow "Please Slow... Manatees Below" sign sits above the display and catches the attention of people walking through. Next to it, visitors can also view a manatee fossil.
The display also has a picture of a manatee the troop adopted through Savethemanatee.org. Jessica Barry said the troop earned money to adopt the animal through cookie sales and other endeavors.
While they have officially earned their award, the girls of Troop 772 are still working on the project. They contacted local marinas and ordered signs from Save the Manatee Club to display in harbors so boaters know to look out for the manatees in the area.