Swimming with the Manatee

These creatures are immensely special. It was such a privilege to observe and even interact with the manatee in Crystal River, Florida.

Although, I’m torn about how I feel about people swimming with them, as this has become increasingly popular in recent years.

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On the one hand, I think it connects humans to animals, and thereby increases empathy and compassion for these incredibly special creatures. On the other hand, I think we should leave them alone (at least in the masses), or at the very least have an incredible and immense respect for them when visiting their home underwater by observing them more than touching. It’s important to be incredibly quiet out there on the water. This is where they are nursing and feeding.

Yesterday I watched humans pet manatees that are nursing their calves, or petting sleeping manatees. I don’t believe this is necessary, or even wanted by the manatees. It’s absolutely incredible just to watch them.

Photo by Amber Sigman

Photo by Amber Sigman

Let them come to you for interaction and touch, but please don’t chase them if you choose to visit their home. It’s illegal to chase them, but people do it anyway. They are incredibly curious and playful creatures. Please respect them in their natural habitat. It’s a privilege to be there.

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Try not talking when you’re out there with them in their territory. It’s beautiful to be quiet for awhile with these beautiful creatures in a simple paradise. I hope it remains that way.

They deserve our protection. We are their guardians.

According to animal symbology, manatees are symbols of peace and non-violence. Instead of talking, try listening to the manatee when you’re out there, with your eyes and your heart. Listen to the quietness of the manatee compared to the loudness of humans. Maybe we can be more like the manatee. I believe they have much to teach us.

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Enigmatic Cuba

 

Spotted clouds dotted the skyline casting shadows over vast green landscapes. Mountainous foothills hugged the edges of homes tucked on the fringes of Santiago de CubaCuba’s second largest city, located on the southeast part of the island. Flying over turquoise waters, from Miami, Fla., to the once closed off island (at least to the most US citizens) I was intrigued with all I would learn and see.

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A wash room in the 1893 Colonial House which now houses foreign travelers in downtown Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. http://www.ambersigman.com

Live Afro-Cuban jazz echoed in the streets. Horse steps sounded on old cobblestone roads through the long vintage curtains of an old colonial home. Unable to afford cars, many locals ride horse carriages to work in the early morning in Santiago de Cuba. Nearly everything in Cuba is an antique; from the tiles on the floors, to the dinnerware, and the century-old rocking chairs. Even plastic bags are something of a rarity.

Enigmatic Cuba fascinated me with its many layers of history. What many Cubans lack in technology and material items, they make up for in with a rich and resilient human connection, perhaps a side-effect of a long and adverse history.

We mainly hear stories of the Cubans who come over on home-made rafts seeking refuge, but we rarely hear stories of the Cubans who stay on the island, who simply live there. There are 11 million of them.

They seemed to have a rare sense of togetherness and connectedness- interacting face-to-face, not so distracted by the machinery of the industrialized world. The islanders fix goods, and re-use them. Things aren’t so disposable in Cuba. This all-together creates a certain kind of magic about the people of Cuba.

“In no other culture that I can think of, is everyone equal and poor, yet lively, and colorful; where people make music in the streets,” a fellow traveler said before tucking herself into bed in an old colonial house built in 1893, in downtown Santiago de Cuba down a beautiful cobblestoned street.

If only those walls could speak.

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Taxi driver Antonio Hernandez with a special permit to bring foreigners outside of city limits drives past small towns in Sierra Maestra mountain region after coming back from the beach. © Amber Sigman Photography

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A man rides horse back near the small village towns in the Sierra Maestra mountain region outside of Santiago de Cuba. Unable to afford cars, many still ride horse carriages in the city to work. © Amber Sigman Photography

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Locals and foreigners at La Gran Piedra outside of Santiago de Cuba. The lights of the island of Jamaica can be seen in the evening from the top of this big rock which is said to weigh over 63,000 pounds. © Amber Sigman Photography

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A little girl waits for her mother to walk her to her class in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Education is very important in Cuba where children are fed two meals per day. University is free . © Amber Sigman

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A man transports food rations of rice by bike, shipped in from Vietnam for the local people near the port of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. © Amber Sigman Photography

Cold temps in Florida

Johnson, left, and Avila look for a spring outside of their hotel along King’s Bay in Crystal River, Fl., where temps dropped to below freezing. “I left my winter clothes in Connecticut,” Dorothy Johnson (left) said. “The only thing we are missing is the snow,” Terry Avila (right) said.

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Lyngbya clean-up in Hunter Springs

Lynbya is an invasive algae that is said to be toxic to the manatees, and smothers native plants. It’s overgrowth is caused by lawn fertilizer, and septic tanks. Here, students from Georgia help eliminate the lyngbya in Hunter Springs Park as part of the “One Rake At A Time” Lyngbya Removal Project. “I’m a manatee watch person, and I want my water crystal clean,” clean-up volunteer Valeria Kosh said. “Sixteen years ago the water was crystal clean; It’s what made me move here,” she said.

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Brad Knoll, with “One Rake At A Time”, looks out onto Hunter Springs which used to be totally clear a little more than a decade ago. The blackish part of the water is where lyngbya, an invasive algae has overtaken the spring, while the clear part is from a recent lyngbya clean-up. The spring used to be totally clear years ago, according to locals.

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Art Jones, dir., of the ‘One Rake At A Time’ directs students from Darton State College to help open up a spring vent in Hunter Springs Park. “It [lyngbya] gets into the spring vents and chokes them off,” Jones said.

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Darton State College students, from left, Samantha Tambrini, Breann Cleve, and Victoria Favela-Parra volunteer with the ‘One Rake At A Time’ Lyngbya Removal Project to help eliminate the invasive, and toxic algae from Hunter Springs Park.

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Amber Clyatt, a student from Darton State College, helps remove lyngbya in Hunter Springs Park. The invasive algae is caused by lawn fertilizer, and septic tanks according to Art Jones, dir., of One Rake At A Time’ (not pictured).

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Victoria Favela-Parra, center, and Angel Ramirez, both students with Darton State College, help eliminate lyngbya (an invasive blue green algae said to be toxic to manatees, and harmful to other native plants) in Hunter Springs Park as part of the ‘One Rake At A Time’ Lyngbya Removal Project. “It’s great helping out the community, and just being out of Georgia, and in Florida,” Favela-Parra said.