Crystal River Refuge’s “Manatee Manners” for Swimmers


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. All activities are prohibited inside. Visitors
must stay out of all posted manatee sanctuaries and all other posted closed areas.
The following activities or the attempt to perform any of the following activities is
prohibited throughout Kings Bay: Chasing or pursuing a manatee
Disturbing or touching a resting or feeding manatee
Diving from the surface onto a resting or feeding manatee
Cornering or surrounding a manatee Riding, holding, grabbing, or pinching a manatee
Poking, prodding, or stabbing a manatee with anything, including your hands and feet
Standing or stepping on a manatee Separating a mother and calf or separating
a manatee from a group Giving a manatee anything to eat or drink
Actively initiating contact with a belted or tagged manatee and associated gear, including
any belts, harnesses, tracking devices, or antennae
Interfering with rescue and research activities We understand that these are extensive rules
to remember; however, if you practice passive observation you won’t have to worry about
breaking any of these rules. Responsibilities of swimmers, snorkelers,
and divers in Kings Bay There are other things you can do that will
improve the quality of your experience and reduce impacts to manatees and other visitors.
By following these simple guidelines, you will prevent manatee harassment and disturbance
while increasing your opportunity to see manatees up close.
When you are ready to get in the water, remember that you are about to enter the manatee’s
home. Make sure there is a dive flag within 100’
of where you’ll be swimming. Enter the water quietly and slowly to keep
from scaring manatees and stirring up the bottom. Unnecessary splashing can disturb
manatees and stir up sediment, reducing visibility Keep your feet/fins off the bottom, especially
in shallow areas, to maintain visibility. Always keep calm, reduce splashing or excessive
noise as much as possible. When approaching the springs, swim as quietly
and slowly as possible, keeping legs, arms, hands and fin movements to a minimum and below
the water’s surface to prevent splashing. A wetsuit and snorkel gear is highly recommended,
especially during the winter months. Wetsuits provide improved buoyancy, helping
keep all snorkeling activity at the surface Snorkel gear improves your ability to see
manatees, and will prevent you from accidentally swimming over or into manatees.
Always give manatees the right of way and do not block or intercept a manatee as it
moves or surfaces to breathe. Avoid swimming over manatees or hovering over
them. Swimming over or hovering over manatees can
easily disturb them, particularly those found resting, nursing or feeding.
Don’t approach a mating herd. Although manatees aren’t aggressive,
approaching a herd can be dangerous for swimmers. The sound of bubbles generated by scuba gear
may disturb manatees. Avoid approaching any manatee while wearing
scuba gear. Remember, you are responsible for your children. Make sure that they understand the rules for
swimming with manatees and never leave them unattended while in the water.
Practice passive observation. By using this technique, the likelihood of harassing or
disturbing a manatee is significantly reduced, and manatees are more likely to approach you.
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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