HARRISON TOWNSHIP — “It’s an event where everybody comes away feeling like a winner.”
Those are the words of L’Anse Creuse High School biology teacher Lesley Argiri, founder of Michigan’s annual Save the Manatee 5k run and walk; an event that has been held in Harrison Township for the past nine years.
Since its inception, Argiri, hundreds of her former and current students and local supporters have helped raise more than $69,000 for the Save the Manatee Club, a Florida-based non-profit organization that helps protect the endangered mammal.
“Last year, we donated $13,500 to the Save the Manatee Club,” said Argiri, a teacher at L’Anse Creuse for 19 years. She said funds are also raised through various fundraisers throughout the year, like student-led candy sales, and students solicit donations from family, friends and local businesses. “I couldn’t do this without the students’ help.”
The 10th annual Save the Manatee race will be held on May 18 at Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. Early registration begins at 8 a.m. The Mini Manatee Mile starts at 9 a.m.; the 5k Run starts at 9:30 a.m. and the 2 Mile Walk event will start at 9:32 a.m. The events are open to individuals of all ages.
Argiri said the top three reasons manatees are endangered are because, “boaters don’t see them in the water and run over them”; regular encroaching on manatee habitat; and red tide, a “respiratory distress caused by microscopic protists that release a toxin. These protists get in the sea grass that manatees eat, and manatees die from respiratory distress. Hundreds of manatees died over the past month due to this issue.”
“Students who volunteer (to raise funds and participate in the annual event) actually learn about manatees and the reasons they are endangered,” said Argiri. “I am a biology teacher, so when I teach ecology, I talk about manatees, along with other endangered species.”
The Save the Manatee Club, a nonprofit conservation and manatee welfare organization based in Maitland, Fla., has been the voice for manatees since 1981, when it was co-founded by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett and former U.S. Senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham.
Funds from the race will help with manatee research, rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts, education and public awareness projects, conservation work to protect manatees and their habitat, and programs in the United States, Central and South America, the Caribbean and West Africa.
Jill Piasecki has participated in the local 5k race multiple times over the years.
“I have a running group of about eight people, and we try to run a race every week or two,” said Piasecki. “Of all the races throughout the year, everyone’s favorite is the Save the Manatee 5k. I am highly convinced that it’s the passion of (Argiri) and (her) students, and the energy that surrounds everyone.”
Save the Manatee Club Executive Director Patrick Rose will attend this year’s 10th anniversary event.
“I’m really looking forward to the race,” said Rose. “At a time when manatees are experiencing unprecedented mortality and other extreme hardships in Florida, it is especially gratifying to know that we have such a great outpouring of support in Michigan.”
Michigan’s race participants will receive a registration packet of special items, and a variety of trophies, medals, awards, and door prizes can be won throughout the day, with age group awards for 5k runners only and finishing medals for Mini Mile participants. Manatee medals are awarded to the top three finishers in the 5k. The course is USATF certified, and the race is scored using the Chrono Track D-Tag. The Mini Mile and the 2 Mile Walk are clock-timed. The entry fee for the Mini Manatee Mile and the 2 Mile Walk is $20, and the entry fee for the 5k Run is $30. The cost will include a T-shirt while supplies last. The entry fees do not include the park entrance fee of $5 per vehicle.
Register online for the Save the Manatee 5K Run, a dog-friendly event, at www.savethe manatee5k.com/ or email Lesley Argiri at email@example.com. To learn more about manatees and the Club’s Adopt-A-Manatee program, go to www.savethemanatee.org.
A fundraiser to benefit the race is being held May 8 at Buffalo Wild Wings, 48 Market Street in Mount Clemens. A portion of the total bill from food orders made during lunch or dinner will go to the L’Anse Creuse High School: Save the Manatee.