Saving the manatees, hundreds of miles away

Annual 5K raises funds, awareness

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published May 2, 2019

 Young runners in the mini mile race take off from the starting line during last year’s Save the Manatee 5K fundraiser at Lake St. Clair Metropark. This year’s event will be May 11.

Young runners in the mini mile race take off from the starting line during last year’s Save the Manatee 5K fundraiser at Lake St. Clair Metropark. This year’s event will be May 11.

Photo provided by Brian McDonald


HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Why save the manatee in a state where there’s nary a one for some 1,500 miles?

“The manatee doesn’t live anywhere around here, but the environmental issues are a global problem,” said Lesley Argiri, a biology teacher at L’Anse Creuse High School and the founder of the Save the Manatee 5K, an annual fundraiser held at Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. “Kids have to be aware of what’s going on worldwide.”

This year’s event, the 16th annual edition, will be held May 11.

The popular grassroots-born race benefits Save the Manatee Club, an award-winning international nonprofit conservation and manatee welfare organization based in Maitland, Florida.

Cora Berchem, Save the Manatee Club’s multimedia specialist, said funds from the race help with manatee research, rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts; education and public awareness projects; and conservation work to protect manatees and their habitats in Florida, as well as in Central and South America, the Caribbean and West Africa.

“The manatee were listed from endangered to threatened two years ago,” she said. “That’s from the threats they were facing, which are are going up. Those threats are collision with watercraft, entanglement in fishing line or ingestion to foreign objects in the water, and the pollution and algal blooms. We experienced a red tide in Florida last year, which resulted in the death of many manatees.”

Berchem said the manatee serves many purposes: Not only are they a beloved mammal that attracts tourists, but they also eat sea grass, which keeps the grass from growing too high, which impacts where boats are easily able to travel, and helps maintain the health of the seagrass beds.

Argiri became involved in saving the manatees with the running event after meeting her husband, Brian McDonald, a L’Anse Creuse Middle School-South teacher and an avid runner.

“I started running too, and I noticed that the 5Ks all raised money for something,” she said. “I always loved the manatee — since I was a kid. My family would go to Florida every summer, and they just fascinated me. And I’m a biology teacher so we talk about what’s happening in a unit on environmental issues. I always bring up the manatee.”

The run/walk was born in 2003. That first year 150 participants raised $3,200. In 2018, 1,100 participants help raise $30,500. In 15 years, the Save the Manatee 5K has raised $206,000 for the Save the Manatee Club.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Berchem, who attends the event every year. “Lesley’s event has grown so much over the years. It’s really mind blowing. So many people come and a lot of funds are raised to protect the manatee and to raise awareness of the manatee.

Argiri’s biology students also help with the race by recruiting participants, setting up the event and with clean up efforts.

“I couldn’t pull it off without them,” she said. “They’re just awesome.”

The mini-mile starts at 9 a.m., and the 5K and walk starts at 9:30 a.m. The cost to register is $30 in advance, and $35 the day of the event. There is a $10 fee to enter the park. All participants receive manatee finisher medals. Participants who register early receive a manatee T-shirt and a gift from the Save the Manatee Club. Manatee pins are awarded to the top three finishers in the 5K, and trophies are awarded to the overall male, overall female, overall male master and overall female master. This is a dog-friendly event, and even dogs receive a canine finisher medal, Argiri said.

Those who can’t make it can participate anywhere virtually. The race can be completed anywhere; run your favorite course, walk a scenic trail, jog on a treadmill or kayak in support of manatees. Virtual participants will receive a manatee T-shirt, a manatee race bib, and a finisher’s medal.
Register at 16th-annual-save-the-manatee, or go to