Meet Sirenian Scientists: Interview with Robert Bonde

Bob Bonde
Sirenian Scientist: Bob Bonde

Who are you and what is your affiliation?

I am Dr. Bob Bonde and I am currently retired from the U.S. Geological Survey, Sirenia Project after a 40-year career of studying manatees. I also hold an adjunct professor position with the graduate school at the University of Florida in the Large Animal Clinical Sciences department.


How did you get involved with Sirenians?

I was offered a federal position recovering manatee carcasses in Florida in 1978.  I then moved on to doing behavioral and life history studies, conducting aerial surveys, and working in the health and genetics fields. I have served on more than 30 graduate student committees.

What does your research focus on?

Primary research and conservation applications to protect manatees. Much of the work has been in the international community assisting local in-country researchers develop projects and studies to be conducted in their countries.

Why is this work important and what are the possible real world applications?

Much is known about manatees in Florida and Brazil, with little known elsewhere. Seeing studies and research that results in conservation efforts to protect imperiled manatees is the most rewarding aspect of my career, as this work tends to strengthen protective practices for many species in the ecosystem.

Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist

Seeing the manatee reclassified from “endangered’ to “threatened” in the U.S in 2017. It is unfortunate that management classified Florida manatees as West Indian manatees when making their decision about the status of the manatee in the United States. That interpretive reclassification impacted most Antillean manatees throughout their range, where very little is actually known. I would have preferred that the analyses were done to address only the manatee populations within the jurisdiction of the US territorial waters. Those areas would include the southeastern US and Puerto Rico.

What is one major message you would share with the public about what you have learned in this field?

Writing the book on manatee biology (The Florida Manatee: Biology and Conservation) with Dr. Roger Reep helped me to fashion my perception of the manatee and how it relates to the world order. I learned quite a lot with that project and look forward to the next book on the topic. Generally, I feel that you need to be diligent in your work and always derive novel questions and hypotheses that think outside the box and explore the big picture concepts.

Is there anything you would like to add that wasn’t asked?

It sorrows me to see a world governed by natural processes disrupted for human accommodation with little regard to the environment and its wildlife. We tend to disregard the truth with our fashioned beliefs in an attempt to reassure our positions and actions. This blindsided approach to greed is destructive in the long run and comes with a cost. Can we afford this denial? I believe we need to be greedy in our pursuits, but generous in our efforts to share; a common virtue seldom seen in our politic. This is particularly true of simple knowledge without wisdom.


If you would like to learn more about Bob and the Sirenia Project at USGS, please click on the links below.