Seagrass - The Manatee Food
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.