Though there aren’t many left in Costa Rica’s rivers, the manatee is about to become a little more famous after a bill declaring it the national marine mammal passed a first round of legislative debate on Monday.
Manatees, also known as sea cows, are large herbivorous mammals that live in rivers and oceans. Of the three species of manatees, one is native to Costa Rica – the West Indian manatee, also known as the Florida manatee.
It took three years for the legislation to make it this far, after two school children from Limón proposed the declaration in 2011 after learning about manatees in school. Along with making the sea cow a national symbol, the bill, if passed, would also allocate funds for manatee education and conservation.
The bill goes to a second round of debate on July 22. President Luis Guillermo Solís would then sign it into law.
Tortuguero, in Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean, remains the only region of the country with a confirmed manatee population, and even there, scientists believe there are fewer than 20 living in the area’s canals.