Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida
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Experience Florida Wildlife Up Close

By: Kyle Grammatica

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is a safe haven for Florida’s West Indian manatee population. The refuge was established in 1983 as a part of the United States National Wildlife Refuge System. It covers 80 acres in total and has 20 islands within the protected area.

There are a variety of different activities to do at the refuge. Fishing is allowed in most sections of the Kings Bay area. Guided boat and shuttle tours are available, and interpretive talks are held daily during the prime manatee months of November through April. These talks explore topics like manatee population dynamics, the history and management of manatees at the refuge, and the science behind the natural spring system. Boating and kayaking is also popular, with most of the Kings Bay area open to boating year round.

Swimming with the manatees is the most popular reason to visit Crystal River. In the winter and early spring, hundreds of manatees come to Three Sisters Springs to bask in the warm water. While many manatees leave during the warmer months, there are some that stay throughout the year. Crystal River is one of the few places in Florida where you can swim with manatees in the wild. They are curious animals and will frequently interact with swimmers, but it is important to learn Manatee Manners so that you do not scare or harm these protected animals.

The Florida manatee is the largest of all living sirenians, and have no natural predators. They eat aquatic plants and some small fish and invertebrates. Manatees were originally placed on the endangered species list in 1970. At the time there were only a few hundred left in the wild due to boating accidents, disease, and pollution. Through rigorous conservation efforts, the manatee population has increased to more than 6,000 since 1970. To help protect the manatee and other endangered species, donate here.

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