The Detection of Amazonian Manatees (Trichechus inunguis) Using Side-Scan Sonar and the Effect of Oil Activities on Their Habitats in Eastern Ecuador

Caitlin Brice, Caitlin, Caitlin Brice, Marine Biology, Caitlin Brice, Marine Biology, Daniel Gonzalez-Socoloske, Iii
2014 unpublished
Substantial hunting pressure and habitat destruction caused by oil extraction has critically endangered the Amazonian manatee in Ecuador. The current population status is unknown because an effective method to observe them in the wild has yet to be developed. This study explored whether the Amazonian manatee persists or has been extirpated in the eastern Ecuadorian Amazon utilizing side-scan sonar to increase odds of detection. Spatial differences in probability of detection were quantified if
more » ... anatees were observed. The level of chemical contamination was determined and compared spatially and temporally against historical data. Data were collected using opportunistic transect surveys and grab sampling of surface water in Yasuni National Park, Lagartococha, and Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Surveys confirmed that the manatee population is extant. Manatees were encountered more often in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve than in Lagartococha and Yasuni. Side-scan sonar detected more manatees than previously reported in 1996-1999. Side-scan sonar is a viable method for detection of manatees in the Ecuadorian Amazon system and resulted in greater detection as a function of effort. All future population studies should incorporate side-scan sonar. Lead, arsenic, mercury, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs], and volatile organic compounds [VOCs] were not detected in the waters of the study region. High total petroleum hydrocarbon [TPH] levels were measured in 7 samples from Yasuni National Park. The concentrations of TPH were higher in Yasuni National Park than in Lagartococha and Cuyabeno. TPHs were detected only in the study region with a recent oil spill; there was no evidence that TPHs were higher near oil production wells and pipelines. The concentrations of TPH were significantly different than those measured in 1998 (z =3.01710, p=0.0026). A dedicated study should be performed to develop a protocol for monitoring persistent oil contaminants in the Ecuadorian Amazon and determine their sink.