Racing to save the manatee

Annual fundraiser 5K May 20 at Lake St. Clair Metropark

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published May 15, 2017


HARRISON TOWNSHIP — According to Cora Berchem, multimedia specialist for the Save the Manatee Club headquarters in Florida, 2016 was the deadliest year for the peaceful sea mammal.

While the manatee faces many threats, including habitat destruction and algae blooms, there’s an oftentimes overlooked threat that is causing the most harm: recreational water activities.

“2016 was the worst year on record in terms of manatee deaths from watercrafts,” said Berchem. “We surpassed 100 manatee deaths (last year) as a result of watercraft. And with the growing Florida population and more people using the water, this is becoming more of a threat.”

That’s why the Save the Manatee Club’s education and conservation efforts are more important now than ever.

Through regular fundraising efforts across the country and internationally, the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club has been able to get the manatee — often referred to as “sea cow” because of its slow manner and the way it grazes on water plants in tropical seas — downgraded from the endangered species list to threatened.

“They’re not out of the woods yet,” Berchem said.

One local fundraiser has been a major success in that effort.

The Save the Manatee 5K will hold its 14th annual event May 20 at Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township.

Founded and organized each year by L’Anse Creuse High School biology teacher Lesley Argiri, the Save the Manatee 5K will offer a 5K, 2 Mile Fun Walk and Mini Manatee Mile. It is expected to draw more than 1,200 participants.

“Even though there are no manatees in Michigan’s waterways, there are definitely a lot of people in Michigan who love manatees,” Berchem said.

Argiri said she launched the Save the Manatee 5K after she took up running after meeting her husband, who was already an avid runner.

“I noticed all the 5Ks we participated in were fundraisers,” she said. “That’s when I got the idea to start up a Save the Manatee 5K. I have always been fascinated with these animals. Being a biology teacher, I always talk about them when we study ecology.”

Since launching the 5K, more than $145,000 has been raised to help manatees. The 2016 event in Michigan drew 1,200 participants, and the virtual 5K attracted nearly 800 virtual participants in every state in the U.S. and in nine other countries.

“Last year’s event was amazing,” Argiri said. “We donated $26,500 to the Save the Manatee Club, bringing our 13-year total to $145,000. I am very proud of the efforts of Team Manatee.”

This year, Argiri has recruited the help of 80 student volunteers who will work in various capacities throughout the day, including handing out race packets and bibs, collecting donation prizes, packing race envelopes for the virtual and actual runs, recruiting participants, registration, pre-registration, seting-up and tearing-down equipment, cheer on the crowd, handing out medals, passing out water, helping with the awards ceremony, helping with the manatee adoption table, and helping out at the Canine Corner.

“They do a lot,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”

Argiri said participants in the 5K receive a race packet with a unique race T-shirt and race bib, as well as a newly designed finisher medal featuring a manatee in an aquatic setting.

Funds raised from the Save the Manatee 5K race help with the Save the Manatee Club’s mission to protect manatees and their aquatic habitat. The club works to reduce manatee harassment, injuries and deaths from human activity, as well as protect their aquatic habitat by increasing public awareness and education; sponsoring research, rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts; advocating for strong protection measures, such as boat speed zones and sanctuaries; and taking legal action when appropriate, Berchem said.

The Save the Manatee Club has been the voice for manatees since 1981. The club was co-founded by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham when he was governor of Florida.

Sign up the day of the event or at Participants can also join the Save the Manatee Club on Facebook at to see photos and videos. For more information on manatees and how you can help protect them, as well as the Adopt-A-Manatee program, visit the Save the Manatee Club’s website at or call (800) 432-5646.