There are countless incredible outdoor experiences throughout Florida that are great for families. One that I recently had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand, provides unparalleled interaction with a unique animal..the Florida manatee! This is the only place in the United states where people can legally interact with manatees in the wild. Here’s some info on this unique and interesting experience.
Crystal River is located on the Nature Coast of Florida. It’s a small town with a population of just over 3,000. The city sits on Kings Bay. Kings Bay is an area of water fed by over seventy springs. These springs sit just over 5 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, the springs feed over 600 million gallons of freshwater a day. I had the opportunity to visit the most popular spring, Three Sisters Spring. This spring has crystal clear water, and in the colder months, holds hundreds of manatees.
The West Indian manatee is a threatened species and was formerly considered an endangered species in the 1970s, as there were only several hundred left in the wild. Most deaths were human related…manatees are frequently struck by boats and propeller blades. Recently, on March 30, 2017, the endangered species classification was lifted, and they are now considered threatened. There are currently around 6,000 west indian manatees in the wild.
The reason why the manatees venture into the springs surrounding the Crystal River has to do with falling water temperatures. When the water temperatures fall below 65 degrees in Florida, the manatees undergo great stress. The springs in the area around Crystal River have a constant temperature of 72-74 degrees. The manatees thrive in the warm water, they come here to mate and then birth and nurse their young. Although Crystal River holds manatees all year round, the months from November through April hold the highest concentrations.
Now for the fun part, swimming with the manatees! In this area, the manatee tours use what is called ‘passive observation.’ This means that you do not initiate contact, but rather observe and wait for the manatees to come to you. This allows the manatees to not feel threatened and to be relaxed in their own environment. When I visited Crystal River, we used 5mm wetsuits which are extremely buoyant. This allows you to float gently, without having to tread, so that the manatees will approach you and get extremely close
If you’re looking for a great way to get in touch with nature, that’s relaxing and accessible for the whole family, I recommend visiting Crystal River, staying at the Plantation on Crystal River, and booking a trip with their dive shop. They’ll set you up with the appropriate gear and teach you the best way to interact with these gentle giants. Did I forget to mention? There’s great fishing too! Visit www.discovercrystalriverfl.com and www.plantationoncrystalriver.com to book a trip.