See Manatees at
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
Perhaps the best place in the entire world
to swim and snorkel with manatees
Swims and Snorkeling
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the best place to see manatees in Florida. Located
on Florida's Gulf Coast, Crystal River protects Florida's largest concentration of
manatees. As many as 1,000 manatees winter in the waters of Crystal River, especially within the refuge protecting King's Bay.
Crystal River is the only place in the world where you can snorkel with manatees in
sparkling clear water. As many as 130,000 people come to Crystal River to swim with these big animals.
Swimming with a manatee is a rare privilege. To make sure
it lasts: Watch, don't touch.
Many of the manatees congregate around the system of springs in Kings
Bay that daily produce 600 million gallons of 72-degree F fresh
To protect manatees from harassment,
seasonal sanctuaries exist in Kings Bay from Nov. 15 to March 31;
check annually for the latest information.
Although many manatees enjoy interacting with snorkelers, some do not. The sanctuaries,
clearly marked with buoys, provide an undisturbed resting
area for shy animals and those wanting a respite from human contact.
In addition, parts of Kings Bay have designated idle, no-wake and slow
speed zones, from September through April.
Entrance to King Spring, the most popular snorkel site, is limited
to a corridor set aside for snorkelers. Anglers are no longer allowed
to drop a line directly over the spring, something for which divers
and snorkelers are grateful. The spring is closed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
If you decide to snorkel with the manatees, always allow the
animal to approach you. Never chase it. If you do,
you could face a possible $100,000 fine and 1 year in jail. It is illegal
to pursue, harass, harm annoy or molest a manatee.
if these penalties aren't incentive enough for good behavior, some conservation
organizations would like to keep snorkelers completely away from Crystal
River's manatees. Seeing the creatures underwater face to face
is a privilege none of us can afford to abuse.
Crystal River and the town of the same name are located about 80 miles
north of Tampa at the junction of U.S. 44 and U.S. 19. The best time
to view manatees is early in the morning on a cold
weekday (a wet suit is mandatory). Many more people are present
Manatees usually don't mind a few snorkelers at a time, but when a horde
of flippered folk show up, the animals move away from the most accessible
Since manatees are big business, local dive shops know precisely
where the manatees are apt to be found on any given day. Dive shops
also rent small jon boats with engines
of 10hp and under, well suited for Crystal River. When waves in the
nearby Gulf of Mexico look like Alpine peaks, Crystal River has only
Crystal River also is a giant holding pen for both
fresh and salt water fish. In winter, huge schools of salt water species
enter from the Gulf: rays, sharks, grouper, jacks, and snook have all
been sighted. Of course, spearing is strictly prohibited.
Contact information: 352/563-2088. Main office hours are from 8 a.m.
to 4 p.m. weekdays. The Visitor Center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. The refuge headquarters is located at 1502 SE Kings Bay Drive, Crystal River,FL 34429-4661. See website.
The Florida Manatee Festival is held at crystal river annually in January.
For information about where to stay, snorkel tours, dining and more contact the Crystal River Visitors Center, 915 N Suncoast Blvd, Crystal River, FL 34429. Ph (352) 794-5506.See website.
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