Crystal River Refuge’s “Manatee Manners” for Paddlers

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 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. 31. All activities are prohibited inside.
Visitors must stay out of all posted manatee sanctuaries and all other posted closed areas.
“Additional Vessel Exclusion Areas” include the King Spring swim area, AKA, the Keyhole,
which is closed to all vessels, including kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards”
Become familiar with the following guidance and use this information when paddling in
Kings Bay. By paying attention and following the tips
below, paddlers should be able to avoid collisions with manatees and prevent any disturbance
to resting manatees. Keep an active watch for manatees and practice
safe paddling when in Kings Bay. Because paddlers sit low to the water, paddlers
may have difficulties seeing and avoiding collisions with manatees, if not careful.
Wearing polarized sunglasses will improve your ability to see manatees in the water
and should be worn at all times. When paddling look for manatee signs. These
may include a swirl in the surface of the water, observing a snout, part of a back or
tail or hearing a manatee break the surface to breathe.
What should you do if you see a manatee? When you see a manatee ahead, stop or slow
down to prevent disturbance to the manatee and for your personal safety.
Maintain a safe distance from manatees. Do not chase manatees or paddle over manatees
and avoid floating or hovering over them. Use the surface paddling technique while paddling
gently when around manatees. This will reduce the disturbance, noise and splash created
by typical paddle strokes. When paddling around spring areas where manatees
congregate, your vessel speed should be at its total minimum. This will allow you to
react in time to prevent a disturbance. You should watch where you place the paddle
on every stroke in case there are manatees rising to breathe or resting at the surface.
Always be ready to stop, back up or steer when in the springs.
Mating herds can occur at any time throughout the year. These animals are not aggressive
towards humans, but they are quite active and can easily flip a small vessel like a
kayak. If you find yourself near a mating herd, the safest thing to do is avoid the
group. If the animals approach, remain calm and surface paddle away from the herd.
Don’t reach from your vessel to touch manatees or try to attract manatees to the side of
the vessel. When preparing to anchor, find a safe area
to anchor in and always be considerate of 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. 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. This is for
the safety of any manatees and people in the water that might be around your vessel.
Dropping an anchor into the water isn’t just a hazard, but it can also scare manatees
away from your boat. All swimmers, snorkelers, and divers must
stay within 100’ of a dive flag. Be careful and enter the water slowly to keep from splashing,
scaring manatees and stirring up the bottom. When you stir up the bottom, it’s hard to
see in the water. Please remember, if you are getting into the
water to view, photograph or video manatees, you must first watch the Manatee Manner video
for swimmers or the video for photographers and videographers.
Special restrictions for Three Sisters Springs Three Sisters Springs is part of Crystal River
NWR and therefore has additional regulations to maintain the natural beauty of the area
as well as its value as a refuge for wildlife. Three Sisters Springs is open from sunrise
to sunset year-round. You can paddle within the Three Sisters Springs
year-round. However, the following regulations apply when
paddling inside the springs between November 15 and March 31: No anchoring of vessels anywhere inside the
springs. No exiting or boarding a vessel anywhere inside
the springs. Doing so disturbs manatees and may stir up
sediment (reducing visibility). If you wish to swim in the springs, anchor
your vessel outside of the spring run and swim into the area. To prevent erosion, don’t pull or push kayaks,
canoes, or paddleboards onto land or tie to signs, trees, or vegetation.
All pets must remain on board vessels (kayaks, canoes, etc.)
During peak visitation times, the narrow spring run may be too congested for a paddler wanting
to enter or exit Three Sisters Springs. Please wait for other paddlers, swimmers, and manatees
to leave the spring run before entering and keep to the right side of the canal to permit
a flow of traffic in and out of the springs. 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

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