Home of the Mexican mermaid

The State Reserve Manatee Sanctuary, Chetumal Bay, Mexico

Laguna Guerrero © Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Medio Ambiente, Quintana Roo, Mexico

The Chetumal Bay Manatee Sanctuary is home to one of the largest remaining populations, around 150-200 individuals, of Mexican Caribbean manatees, an animal that early Spanish explorers thought were mermaids. The sanctuary is situated in Chetumal Bay a national protected area of the Quintana Roo province of Mexico. The bay is a mixture of terrestrial and aquatic environments creating a landscape of exceptional beauty. The protected area also harbours other threatened and endangered species such as crocodiles (Crocodylus moreleti), the river white turtle (Dermatemys mawii) and jaguar (Pantera onca).

View photos of the area


Management of the State Reserve is the responsibility of the Secretariat of Urban Development and Environment of the government of Quintana Roo, according to the Ecological Environment and Protection Law of Quintana Roo. According to the IUCN category system, this protected area could be categorized as “VI. Protected Area with Sustainable Use of Natural Resources” and with Governance type “A. Governance by government”. On the other hand, based on the Ecological and Environment Protection Law of the State of Quintana Roo, this area is a State Reserve, Reserva Estatal, which corresponds to an area of large land surface with well preserved terrestrial and marine ecosystems.


The protected area is located to the southernmost point of the State with a high socio-economic and political importance for the country because the Sanctuary shares international waters with Belize. The terrestrial and marine ecosystems covered by this protected area are also connected to the National Park Arrecifes de Xcalak (eastwards), Flora and Fauna Protection Area Uaymil (northwards) and the Biosphere Reserve Banco Chinchorro (open sea).

Fauna and Flora

The Manatee Sanctuary is home to one of the largest remaining populations of Mexican Caribbean manatees around 150-200 individuals, an animal classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Of the 180 species inventoried, 110 are under protection such as manatees, jaguars, and tapir. There are 11 species of amphibian, 28 reptiles, 96 birds and 45 mammals.

The sanctuary comprises mangroves, medium and low tropical forests and seagrass beds which represent important niches and habitats for the species of flora and fauna that abound in the sanctuary. Aquatic vegetation harbours sea grasses such as the turtle weed (Thalassia testudinum) and manatee (Siringodium filiforme) and algae namely Dasycladus vermicularis and Batophora ostedii which are part of the manatee’s forage.

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