Manatees feed on seagrass.
Seagrasses were once terrestrial plants. Slowly, over many,
many years they adapted to life in the sea. They grow best
in shallow waters protected from strong waves and in sand
mixed with tiny pieces of coral. Unlike algae or seaweed,
seagrasses are flowering plants. After they flower, they depend
on ocean currents to carry their pollen and disperse their
seeds. The two most common seagrasses are turtle grass and
manatee grass. When you look out over a large bed of turtle
and manatee grass waving in gentle swells of water, you might
be reminded of a field of rice or some other grass waving
in the wind.
Seagrass beds are efficient
prodcers of energy, and they are able to support many marine
creatures. Most marine animals cannot eat the seagrass leaves
directly, instead, they eat the partially decomposed seagrass
leaves that have settled on the sea bottom, which is coated
with a heavy layer of nutritious bacteria and fungi.
Most of the permanent
residents of the seagrass community are small, since seagrass
provides only low cover. Large animals wouldn't be able to
hide well on the short grass. Many invertebrates (animals
without backbones), live attached to the seagrass leaves.
Some examples of these are snails, sponges, crabs and anemones.
They share the leaf space with over 100 species of algae.
See how crowded the seagrass leaves are! Other animals, such
as shrimp, live in burrows (holes) on the sea floor. The conch
also lives in seagrass beds, and it eats the algae that grows
on the seagrass leaves.
Click here to see the
threats to the seagrass.
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