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Animal Rescue

Floridians Come Together to Save Manatees Stranded in Mud by Hurricane Irma

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Michael Sechler/Facebook

Hurricane Irma has caused colossal storm surges across Florida, but it has also deprived other areas of water.

Two manatees in the aptly named Manatee County, Florida, got caught in the extremely low tide caused by the storm’s forces on Sunday.

Marcelo Clavijo

The pair, stuck in knee-deep mud, were first spotted by Michael Sechler and several of his friends, who stopped by a local bay ahead of the 3 p.m. curfew for the area.

“A couple of friends and myself were making last-minute rounds, checking on family and making a run for supplies,” Sechler told PEOPLE. “We were close to the water, so we decided to take a look. When we got out to the bay, we noticed that it was all dried out, but we could see something out there. So, we took our shoes off, rolled up our pants and walked out. It was pretty windy, but we noticed that what we saw were manatees and there were two other people out there already, trying to pick them up.”

Marcelo Clavijo

These Good Samaritans, along with several other residents in the area, immediately went to work saving the animals. Unfortunately, at the time, there were not enough people on the now-barren beach to help pick up the large animals and move them to safety. Instead, Sechler and the others who found the manatees poured water on the animals to make them more comfortable.

“We gave them as much water as we could and I called the FWC [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] and a friend of mine called his friend whose dad works for Manatee County,” Sechler said of their rescue efforts. 

After failing to reach anyone by phone, Sechler posted about the manatees on social media. News of the stranded animals, who are dearly beloved in the community, quickly spread and soon more people turned up at the bay to help.

Marcelo Clavijo

Everybody was instantly engaged. People were making sure that the posts were public and tagging people who might be able to help,” Sechler said about the response. “These were people hunkering down, waiting for the worst, yet they still wanted to help out.”

Among the newcomers was Mario Clavijo, who, like Sechler, was eager to help the manatees as soon as he spotted them.

“I could see two manatees and thought, the tide must have just gone out so fast that they got caught. I felt obligated to get out there help — I couldn’t just leave them out there to die on the sandbar,” he told PEOPLE. 

With a growing number of people helping out, including two deputies from Manatee County Sheriff’ Department, Clavijo and the others were able to roll the large marine mammals up in a tarp and carry them a 100 yards to a place where they could enter the water once more.  Clavijo captured this heartwarming display of compassion on video and posted it to his Facebook, where it has more than 6 million views.

Thanks to the group’s quick thinking, the manatees, caught in the sudden and brutal effects of Irma, were able to swim away from their predicament unscathed.

“They swam off. You could see them out there bobbing along. Once they were swimming away, it felt great. Everyone was happy as could be,” Clavijo said.