How do manatees contribute to the ecosystem?

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Manatees are aquatic mammals that dwell in slow-moving, freshwater and saltwater bays, estuaries, coastal marshes and rivers. Being purely aquatic herbivorous mammals, Florida manatees have a very special place in the ecosystem, playing a crucial role in the nutrients cycle and in clearing waterways by feeding on aquatic plants. Although they are non-territorial and lack complex behavior for evading predators, they have no natural predators and are never found in habitats occupied by large sharks and killer whales, the common predators of aquatic mammals. They are long-living animals with slow reproductive processes, low population growth and high susceptibility to over-exploitation by humans.

Food and Feeding

Florida manatees are random eaters that feed on more than 65 species of floating, emergent or submerged aquatic plants and grasses, leaves and shoots, and on seagrass beds of freshwater and seawater. They also feed on some fish varieties and small invertebrates, but they do not actively pursue any fish, freshwater animals or marine animals. They graze for 5 or more hours a day taking in a large quantity of vegetation depending on their activity level and body size, consuming up to 8 percent of their total body weight each day.

Habitat and Ecology

Florida manatees are found in a variety of different environments, from the nearly pristine areas dominated by salt-marsh habitats and mangroves to the densely populated canal systems in urban settings. The mammals dwell in freshwater rivers, marine coastlines and estuarine bays, but are unable to tolerate extended exposure to low temperatures. They frequently migrate to warm-water springs, outfalls from electric power plants and various industrial facilities to avoid cold-related mortality.

Effects on ecosystem

Manatees’ biggest ecological contribution is recycling of various limiting nutrients, which promotes primary productivity. Their large body size means they are not only major consumers of aquatic vegetation, but also have huge influence on the structure and function of their environments. Manatee grazing is effective in mosquito and weed control, ensuring that waterways are not obstructed by overgrowth of vegetation. Manatees can serve as indicators of the ecological health of their habitats.

Predators and boat collisions

Since few marine animals are large enough to prey on them and the common predators of marine mammals such as killer whales, crocodiles and sharks rarely target them, manatees do not have natural predators in their ecosystems. In fact, manatees are large enough to be left alone by just about every other animal they encounter except for humans who have hunted them almost to extinction for their bones and meat. Manatees are also extremely susceptible to being hit by boat propellers, with many of them dying every year through boat collisions and human activities in their habitats.

Want to spend your day enjoying an extraordinary interactive outing with the manatees? At Captain Mike’s, we offer a unique opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to see and swim with these gentle giants. Our experienced and knowledgeable guides will provide you with a pre-tour education video on passive observation, teach you how to achieve the best experience during your trip, take you out to the places where you can find manatees and provide you with a snorkel, mask and wetsuits. We will ensure that your manatee tour is completely safe, thrilling and memorable. For more information, visit the “Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees” site.


Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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