Crystal River Refuge’s “Manatee Manners” for Boaters


Welcome to the Crystal River National Wildlife
Refuge and the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge. You are among the thousands of yearly visitors
privileged to enter our natural springs, home of the Florida manatee. Your awareness of
our rules and recommendations is essential to the protection of manatees and their ecosystem.
It is your responsibility to learn and understand these rules prior to recreating in the Refuge.
Between November and April, Kings Bay is home to the largest aggregation of manatees in
a natural environment in the world. To protect manatees from harm, harassment and disturbance,
the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and Manatee Sanctuaries were created in parts
of Kings Bay. In addition, all of Kings Bay has been designated as a federal manatee protected
area, with special manatee protection regulations in place year-round. The Florida manatee is
protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Marine Mammal Protection
Act of 1972 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. Violations of these statutes
may result in fines of up to $100,000 and/or 1 year in jail. The US Fish and Wildlife Service
recommends that all visitors practice passive observation when viewing manatees. Passive
observation means calmly observing manatees from a distance and from the surface of the
water, and not initiating any contact with the manatee. In addition to practicing passive
observation, visitors should not approach manatees, particularly those found resting.
During the winter months, manatees come to the springs to stay warm, and spend the majority
of their time resting around Kings Bay. Undisturbed access to the springs is critical to the manatees’
survival. Resting manatees can be found near the water’s surface, partially submerged
in the water column or laying on the water bottom. They remain relatively still while
resting, but may make some slight movements. For example: manatees may remain almost motionless
before moving to the surface to breath, then returning to the original resting position.
This means that resting manatees may be found moving while resting and it is your responsibility
not to disturb them. Manatees are completely defenseless wild animals. Recreating close
to manatees is a privilege that comes with serious personal responsibility. In the next
few minutes, the rules that prevent manatee harassment will be shown, followed by additional
recommendations that will improve the quality of your experience. Manatee sanctuaries – Manatee
sanctuaries provide a safe area for manatees to rest without disturbance from humans during
the cold winter months. Manatee sanctuaries are designated by large orange and white buoys
stating closed area. All activities are prohibited inside. Visitors must stay out of all posted
manatee sanctuaries and all other posted closed areas. Manatees are commonly found roaming in trafficked
boat waterways and are frequently struck, injured or killed by boats. This video will
teach you how to view manatees responsibly when operating a motor boat, so that you,
manatees and other visitors can have a safe experience. The following measures will also
help you prevent manatee disturbance, including potential boat strikes, and manatee harassment. Become familiar where Kings Bay’s regulated
areas are, how they are marked, and what’s required of you. Speed zones change seasonally
within Kings Bay. It is your responsibility to be aware of what zones are in effect whenever
you are operating a boat in Kings Bay. Speed zones include idle speed, slow speed, and
a 25 mph recreational summer zone. Idle Speed is the minimum speed that will maintain the
steerage of a motorboat. A vessel proceeding at idle speed produces no wake. Slow speed is the speed of a vessel at which
it is completely off plane, is settled into the water, and is producing minimum wake.
A motorboat operated with an elevated bow is not proceeding at slow speed. No specific
speed is assigned to slow speed. Additional speed and anchoring restrictions
are in place in a marked area north of Buzzard Island, known as the 25 mph summer zone. Between
June 1 and August 15, boats can travel at speeds of up to 25 mph during the day and
are required to travel at slow speed at night. During this 25mph summer period, boats cannot
anchor in this area. From August 16 to May 30, boats must travel at slow speed at all
times and anchoring is permitted. Become familiar with the following guidance
and use this information when boating in Kings Bay. Keep an active watch. Boat operators
and passengers should be on the lookout for manatees, swimmers and other vessels. Polarized
sunglasses should be worn at all times. They improve the ability to see manatees diving
from the water surface, travelling below the water surface, and surfacing to breathe. When
manatees breathe, their noses and sometimes their backs break the water’s surface and
the sound of them breathing can occasionally be heard. Diving manatees occasionally expose
their backs and tails as they dive down. Traveling manatees can leave trails of footprints
on calm days. Manatee footprints are trails of circles on the water’s surface, created
by the upward motion of the manatee’s tail as it travels.
Be alert of manatee activity near sanctuaries; sometimes manatees can be found resting outside
of sanctuary areas. Take extra care to not operate vessels over resting manatees.
When you see a manatee ahead, slow down to avoid hitting the manatee.
Do not pursue or chase manatees with a boat or separate manatees from a group with a boat.
Manatees should never be encouraged to approach boats including anchored boats – it could
put them in harm’s way in trafficked waterways. Do not give manatees anything to eat or drink.
When preparing to anchor, find a safe area to anchor in and always be considerate of
manatees, other boats and people in the water. Anchor far enough away from no entry area
boundaries to prevent your boat from drifting or being blown into these areas by the wind.
Select an area away from manatee activity. Manatees frequently rest on the water bottom,
so please anchor away from such areas by paying close attention where manatees are before
choosing a location where to anchor. Never tie up to signs, buoys, and other navigational
structures or to trees or vegetation in Kings Bay. When anchoring, slowly lower your anchor;
never throw it into the water for the safety of manatees and people that might be around
your vessel. Dropping an anchor into the water can also scare manatees away.
Boats should use both: a bow and stern anchor to prevent drift, especially in windy conditions.
Do not let your pets in the water when manatees are present.
When fishing, find a safe place to cast your line, away from manatees and manatee resting
areas, and don’t discard any fishing gear including fishing line and hooks in the water.
Most local boat ramps have monofilament recycling bins.
Manatees can easily ingest or become entangled in fishing line and other fishing gear which
may result in fatality. All swimmers, snorkelers, and divers must stay within 100’ of a dive
flag. Please remember, if you are getting into the water to view manatees or to photograph
or video manatees, you must watch the Manatee Manners video for swimmers, snorkelers, and
divers or the video for photography and filming. Your actions affect the behavior of other
visitors around you; so it is always best to be the example, especially when around
children. If you see an injured manatee or need to report
a violation of the Kings Bay manatee regulations, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1 888 404-3922. Thank you for taking the time to review these
regulations and guidelines. Please remember that Kings Bay is a community shared by manatees
and people, so be respectful of homeowners, businesses, and manatees during your visit.
The USFWS wants both: you and the manatees to have a safe experience.
With your help, we can protect this critical manatee area so it can be shared with future
generations. For more information about manatee protection within Kings Bay, visit us online
at www.fws.gov/CrystalRiver

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