Photo By Courtesy/Alan Youngblood/Ocala Star-Banner
Great news for my manatee buddies at Three Sisters Springs! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just added new rules to help protect manatees from a large visitor increase in recent years. As of Monday, March 2, 2015, the new rules ban kayaks, canoes, and inflatables from the warm waters of the springs. In addition, the rules state that flash photography is also banned. Visitors swimming in the balmy waters with the manatees are no longer allowed in two of the three springheads.
Since we manatees are warm-blooded marine mammals, we can’t survive water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why we head to warmer, balmy Florida spring waters, which are sitting at a wonderful 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Add to that, the Three Sisters Springs is beautiful! It looks like big clover-shaped springs, loaded with crystal clear water and the opportunity to swim with manatees.
Ivan Vicente, of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge explains, “When you have 400 manatees and 2,000 visitors a day, all in 1.5 acres, you get chaos.” Ivan who has been with the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge for nine years continued and said, “When I first started here, there were no issues. Combined, there were probably 13 operators that offered snorkel and scuba. Now we have 41 tour operators in the area.” With that said, the new rules also include all tour operators to have a business license or an exemption letter from the city of Crystal River.
In the last 10 years, visitors to the springs increased from 60,000 per year to more than 200,000 per year. The manatee season is considered running from November 15th to March 31st. Yes we manatees are becoming very popularJ.
Vicente said, “We’ve had more manatees discovering the springs. Every year we get more. The springs are ideal for the animals. There is one way in and out of a canal that leads to Kings Bay and the water depth, which ranges from 4 to 18 feet, is also in the manatees’ comfort zone.” In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission took control of the springs.
Florida Manatees (that’s me J) are a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. We’re currently listed as “endangered” and are at risk from both natural and man-made causes of injury and death. Our exposure to cold stress, red tide, and other diseases are the natural challenges we face each day. The man-made issues facing us are; boat strikes, flood gates (or locks) and also getting caught and tangled up in fishing gear.
If you see any sick or injured manatees, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at: 1-888-404-FWCC. They are the folks who are responsible for rescuing us in Florida.
Here is a cool link for you to learn more about how we’re rescued and brought into rehabilitation…
Here’s another awesome link to learn more about manatees…
~ Kobee Manatee