What Role Do Manatees Play in the Ecosystem?

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Often referred to as “sentinel species,” manatees are an indicator of the overall health of their marine ecosystems. As residents of both freshwater and saltwater ecosystems, typically slow-moving bays, rivers, coastal marshes and estuaries, manatees are quite susceptible to different environmental stressors. They are ideal indicators of any severe environmental changes that could have devastating effects on their ecosystems or habitats. Being predominantly aquatic herbivores, they play a critical role in the nutrients cycle and help clear the waterways by feeding on aquatic plants.

Core part of the ecosystem

Like other animals, manatees are merely a part of the much larger system where components are interdependent — remove one of the elements from the system and the whole system inevitably falls apart. In their ecosystem, manatees stop local vegetation from being obstructive by eating up massive quantities of plant life, up to 110 pounds of food per day. After eating huge quantities of sea grasses, the animals excrete all the digested flora in their surrounding environment and help recycle nutrients. Manatees do not prey on other animals, allowing other aquatic animals to thrive.

Opening up waterways

Eating up large quantities of marine plants makes manatees very crucial to canals, shallow rivers, salt marshes, bays and mangroves. Many of these nutrient-rich ecosystems are often clogged with overgrowths of hyacinth and other vegetation, supported by runoff fertilizers and outputs from sewerage treatment plants. As manatees eat up and clear these invasive vegetation from the waterways, they improve the health of their specific ecosystems. If the waterways were to be blocked by the invasive vegetation, there would be detrimental effects on other organisms in the water.

Returning to the same grass beds

Manatees also impact their ecosystems by repeatedly returning to the same places to graze. While they usually feed on the edges of these grass beds, they never forget where their food sources are located even after migrating to other areas. The constant “mowing” of seagrass helps to maintain the health of these grass beds. Likewise, their large body size ensures that they are able to influence the structure and function of their environments, not just as major consumers of aquatic plants and recyclers of various limiting nutrients, but as promoters and regulators of primary productivity.

Swimming with manatees is a unique, thrilling and remarkable experience. When you go out with our captains you’ll have an experience that you will remember forever. Knowledgeable in the nature, behavior and activities of manatees and on their interactions with humans, they’ll ensure you have a wonderful time with these fascinating sea cows. You also will have an opportunity to check out the beautiful scenery and connect with nature. For more information on manatees and manatee tours, 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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