Did you know that manatees are related to elephants? Manatees are large aquatic mammals, and sometimes they're referred to as “sea cows.” They're very large averaging 10 feet long and 1,200 pounds! But don't let their size fool you: manatees are actually incredibly graceful creatures. They also play an important role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
Manatees eat a LOT of sea grass. By doing so, they keep the grass short, which helps maintain the health of the sea grass beds. While manatees don't have any true natural predators, they have still become endangered.
There are three manatee species worldwide – West Indian, West African, and Amazonian. All three are listed as vulnerable to extinction. So what has caused manatees to become endangered? There are two major threats: loss of habitat and collisions with boats and ships.
As new developments are built along waterways, natural nesting areas are destroyed. Sewage, manure, and fertilizer run-off enters the water and causes algal blooms. Some of this algae is toxic and can kill manatees if they eat it.
Because manatees feed on sea grass, and sea grass needs sunlight and shallow water to grow, manatees spend most of their time in shallow water. This often leaves them with little room to dive away from oncoming boats, which can lead to deadly collisions.
What can be done to help protect endangered species like the manatees? The first step is always an informed public.
Educational campaigns teach boaters to look for patterns caused by a manatee’s tail on the surface of the water so they'll know if a manatee is nearby and to proceed cautiously through shallow waterways.
In some areas, local governments have adopted slow-speed zones in known manatee habitat areas. In the state of Florida a free Manatee Alert mobile app is available.
A healthy ocean depends on manatees. And manatees need our help.