ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Jamal Galves was 11 years old, a manatee research team came to his small village of Gales Point, Belize.
"I approached this guy, Dr. James Powell and said I want to come up with you guys," Galves explained. "He looked at me and shook for a second and said, 'Kid, you're too small,' but I'm very good at making the 'I’m about to cry face.' That made him change his mind and he said, 'Okay, let's go.'"
More than 20 years later, Galves now works for Powell through the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute in Belize.
“It's these people that are going to make the changes and protect these creatures, protect the habitat and the environment," Powell said. "To put that little bit of time, like I did with that 11-year-old-boy, and here he is saving manatees and he’s become a big influence in Belize.”
“You’d be surprised how a kid in Arkansas, who didn’t even know manatees existed, would be inspired by a picture of a manatee in Belize.” Said Galvas.
But manatees are in grave danger in Florida, and Galves is determined to give them a voice.
“These animals are fighting a fight that they won't be able to fight on their own,” he said.
Manatees are facing serious danger of extinction, and he says it will take more than just a handful of people to win.
“Every Floridian, every visitor, every human across the globe needs to talk about it, to tell their story, to support the initiative, to show up, to volunteer, to be a part of making a difference," Galves explained.
It’s a passion that has been seen in videos played around the world, a passion he had long before he became the "Manatee Man."
“That curiosity as a kid, which we all are born with, it still continues and persists with Jamal today," Powell said. "He is as excited every day he sees a manatee, as he was when he was eleven year old kid. You can just see it in his face, and the way that he talks about it. It's not only inspiring to me, but it's inspiring to so many others as well.”
Galves says he will continue to fight and spread his message to anyone that will listen.
"Manatees are famous in Florida. Let's treat them like we treat famous people. We treat them nice. We're welcoming, we're loving to them. Give them the respect that they deserve, because every animal has a story, and their story needs to be told."