Unlike their mostly freshwater cousins, manatees, dugongs are primarily marine mammals. Dugongs generally inhabit shallow waters, remaining at depths of around 10 m, although they occasionally dive to depths of 39 m to feed. These shallow areas are typically located in protected bays, wide mangrove channels and in sheltered areas of inshore islands. Seagrass beds consisting of phanerogamous seagrasses, their primary source of nourishment, coincide with these optimal habitats. Dugongs, however, are also observed in deeper water where the continental shelf is broad, neritic and sheltered. Dugongs use different habitats for different activities. For example, tidal sandbanks and estuaries that are quite shallow, are potential areas suitable for calving. Another example of specialized habitats are lekking areas, which are only used during mating season.
In a study off the coast of Australia, near Darwin, a pair of dugongs was captured in and tracked frequenting rocky reef habitats. Aerial surveys also showed that most dugongs in that region were found associated with a rocky reef. Because habitats of this kind have relatively low spatial coverage, dugongs actively select them. However, it is not known why dugongs frequently seem to forage in these areas, as there is no seagrasses on these reefs and they are not known algae consumers.
Range depth: 0 to 39 m.
Average depth: 10 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; saltwater or marine
Aquatic Biomes: coastal
Other Habitat Features: estuarine