This Thing Called Courage

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hope for the Future


I love stories like this-- it gives one hope for the future. Several years ago I feel in love with manatees, the wonderfully odd aquatic mammals that, for the most part, make Florida their home. And that of course is a problem. Florida, not among our most enlightend states when it comes to ecology and the environment, has over 1,000,000 licensed recreational boats. The manatees, especially as the water temp cools, must move to warmer waters, or they will perish. They seek out the natural thermal springs once located all over the state. Along the way, they are frequently hit and injured, often seriously and often fatally, by people driving too fast in their boats. They are also suffering from loss of habitat. As a result I joined the Save-the-Manatee Club, a non-profit that advocates for these beautiful creatures, who seemingly have evolved from elephants. They are totally defenseless, initiate play with humans, speak ina sophisticated sonar language similar to dolphins-- and need our help.

I've had the pelasure of seeing these beauties in the wild while visiting Florida. I get the Club's email newsletter every month when it comes out, and this latest iussue features a really heartwarming story, attached below. And it turns out he's a Bay Stater!!!

Meet A Member: Brandon Fitzpatrick He's the Manatee Man

Brandon Fitzpatrick AKA the Manatee Man. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Fitzpatrick.)

If you were cruising the residential neighborhoods of northern Massachusetts this summer, you may have bought a refreshing Manatee Lemon Tea from an enterprising young man at a roadside stand. And if you did, you no doubt learned something about endangered manatees at the same time. Meet Brandon Fitzpatrick AKA "the Manatee Man."
Brandon just turned nine years old, but he has already been dubbed “the boy with a manatee mission” by a local paper. For the last two summers, he has set up a lemonade and snack stand and set out to educate area residents about manatees. Assisted by his brother Brian, he sells homemade goods, candy, lemonade, and iced tea at his annual Save the Manatee fundraiser.
Brother Brian (left) assists at the snack stand and Brandon takes charge of educating visitors about manatees. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Fitzpatrick.)
“Last summer, Brandon raised a little over $82,” said Brandon’s mom, Debbie. “This year, it was a two-day event. Brian manned the cash register while Brandon spent time educating everyone about his beloved manatees. At the end of the second day this year, they discovered they had collected $143. After his picture appeared in the local paper, another $57 in donations came in, so Brandon was proud to send Save the Manatee Club $200.”
An extraordinary part of Brandon’s outdoor snack stand is the educational display on manatees. He has created a large storyboard with both real photos of manatees and pictures he has drawn that show how manatees can get injured or killed by discarded fishing hooks and line, boat collisions, and other hazards. And Brandon actively educates the stand visitors, pointing out manatee facts and teaching others how to help protect the endangered animals.
Brandon points out some interesting facts about endangered manatees to his customers. (Courtesy of Chinappi Photography.)
“Brandon first fell in love with manatees when he was six years old,” says Debbie. “We made a trip to Ft. Pierce, Florida, and his grandparents took him to the Manatee Observation & Education Center there. We’ve been back to visit each year for the last three years and have spent hours at the Center soaking up every fact and hoping to catch a glimpse of a manatee. He hasn’t had any luck yet, so one of his greatest hopes is to see a manatee in the wild some day.”
Brandon’s third grade teacher, Mrs. Marjorie Conlon, was so impressed with his knowledge and enthusiasm for manatees that she nicknamed him the Manatee Man. “He would stand up and give us lessons on the dangers that the manatee faced each day,” says Mrs. Conlon. “Due to his enthusiasm, we all brought in a dollar and joined Save the Manatee Club. We have painted a mural in our room of a baby manatee and its mother.””Brandon has the curiosity and knowledge to become a great biologist someday,” added Mrs. Conlon. "I am very proud of his individuality and thoughtfulness. My class and I have learned a great deal about manatees and their habitats due to a spark from a young boy named Brandon Fitzpatrick, the Manatee Man.”
(Courtesy of Chinappi Photography.)

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