He's a manatee named Chester and he's not in great shape. Meet the star of Jill Heinerth's new children's book. Just published, Chester the Manatee and the Very, Very, Terribly Bad Itch is part of Jill's quest to educate children about the state of our water. Below she tells us about the new book, and why she feels manatees have much to teach us.
So what's the idea behind the book?
Chester the Manatee and the Very, Very, Terribly Bad Itch is a book that follows the life of a gentle manatee facing struggles from a very annoying itch. He reaches out to a young girl who helps him discover the cause of his problem. The little girl helps Chester by teaching people about keeping water clean. Chester the Manatee supports children who feel different, embrace their special characteristics. The book celebrates unique kids as remarkable people who help teach others about important issues.
You're quite a fan of manatees right?
The book is a part of my efforts to educate people about their water issues. Recently some misguided but well-meaning people started to lobby to end activities that allow people to swim with manatees. Anyone who has had the privilege to swim with manatees is transformed by the experience and there is no evidence to support that any of the wild manatees are harmed. They have special refuge areas to escape and yet they leave the refuges to interact with humanity. I truly believe the manatees are trying to teach us something.
None have been harmed by human interaction in the water and yet many die of cold stress each year. Their habitat has been destroyed by our use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers on the golf course style lawns we keep in Florida. The bottom vegetation is now gone and replaced by filamentous algae that does not have the nutritional value they require. They have to leave the warmth of the springs to swim out to the Gulf of Mexico to feed. Some don’t make the return trip in time to beat cold weather and henceforth die of cold stress.
I realize that it is critical to help everyone understand that humans’ swimming with manatees are the best chance we have to protect the water they are swimming in. People have to learn from the operators in the area about how to change their behaviors to protect water resources. I hope this book will help.
What’s the story about?
Beyond the environmental message of protecting water, I want to empower kids. Sometimes we all feel like we are different or that nobody understands us. I am trying to encourage kids to be confident and understand that they can help change the world.
What else are you up to right now?
I have a busy summer ahead with work in Greece, the Azores, Newfoundland and England. I’ll be doing some filming of caves, wildlife, wrecks, icebergs and a newly opened flooded mine. I’m also looking forward to going back to Cuba soon. I am working with National Geographic on a project that involves an international team of scientists and explorers. We’re looking at early human remains and unique paleontology as well as getting a better understanding of global climate change.