Health of Manatees Indicates Overall Health of Marine Ecosystems

Written by on October 4, 2012 in Marine Life

A longterm study by researchers from George Mason University (GMU) has confirmed that manatees provide insight into the quality of health of marine ecosystems.


Manatees. Photo credit: flickkerphotos via photopin cc

“Manatees are the proverbial ‘canaries in the mineshaft,’ as they serve as indicators of their environment and may reflect the overall health of marine ecosystems,” explained Alonso Aguirre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation.

The research team studied the behavioral ecology, life history and health of manatees over ten years in a relatively secluded area in Belize.

They picked this small fishing town as their location because it began as a mostly undisturbed area that gained in popularity over time–attracting more tourists and therefore more boats, more fishing, and more stress.

Manatees are good indicators of the health of the ecosystem because they can be highly susceptible or highly resistant to certain environmental stressors.  They often feel the effects long before other species do.

“Studying them may help us predict a change that has the potential to be devastating to an ecosystem or a habitat if left unaddressed,” said Aguirre.

“This study is a benchmark aiding in early disease detection and the current environmental impacts affecting the epidemiologic patterns in the manatees of this region,” he concluded.

To learn more:

Manatee. Photo credit: NOS/NOAA.

Manatee. Photo credit: NOS/NOAA.

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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