Habitat Type: Marine
Comments: Habitat includes shallow coastal waters, estuaries, bays, rivers, and lakes; throughout most of the range, manatees appear to prefer rivers and estuaries over marine habitats (Lefebvre et al. 1989). Manatees are not averse to traveling through dredged canals or using quiet marinas. They apparently are not able to tolerate prolonged exposure to water colder than 20 C. In the north during October-April, manatees congregate in warmer water bodies (spring-fed rivers, outfalls from power plants). They prefer waters at least 1-2 meters in depth; along the coast manatees often are in water 3-5 meters deep, usually in areas lacking strong current. Except in the Greater Antilles, manatees are consistently associated with freshwater sources (Lefebvre et al. 1989). In Brevard County, Florida, the cul-de-sac shelter type was the most ecologically valuable of all shelter types (Burke 1994).
In Florida, manatees occur in freshwater, brackish, and marine environments; typical coastal and inland habitats include coastal tidal rivers and streams, mangrove swamps, salt marshes, freshwater springs, and vegetated bottoms; where feeding often occurs in shallow grass beds, with ready access to deep channels (Smith 1993). In coastal Georgia and northeastern Florida, manatees feed on smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) in salt marshes at high tide (Baugh et al. 1989, Zoodsma 1991). Manatees drink from springs and freshwater runoff sites, mating, calving, and care of young often occur in secluded canals, creeks, embayments, and lagoons (Marine Mammal Commission 1986, 1988; O'Shea and Ludlow 1992; Gannon et al. 2007).
In Puerto Rico, manatees are primarily marine but appear to depend on access to fresh water, and seagrass beds provide the primary foraging habitat (USFWS 2007).