Hands Off the Manatees in Kings Bay, Please

By Glen Gardner, Public News Service–FL

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CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – Those working to protect Florida’s manatees say fast-moving boats and visitors who want to get too close are threatening the animals in Kings Bay, home of the Crystal River Refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing designating all of Kings Bay as a slow-speed area, removing a dangerous high-speed summer water sports area, providing temporary no-entry areas, and expanding “manatee sanctuary” areas where waterborne activities would be prohibited.

Manatees increasingly are at risk in the area, says Patti Thompson, who has worked for years to protect the animals in Kings Bay, and action needs to be taken.

“It’s just a long time coming. It’s one of the best places for manatees in the state of Florida.”

The proposed regulations would ban chasing or pursuing manatees, disturbing or touching them while they are feeding or resting, and separating a mother and a calf, Thompson says.

Opponents have complained that the proposed rules would hurt property owners around Kings Bay, but Thompson says the rules would give them special access through the sanctuary areas.

“They will still have access to the water, but that high-speed water sports zone in the summer will be eliminated, and the sanctuaries can be expanded.”

Capt. Joe Detrick of Fun to Dive, who operates a manatee snorkeling tour company in Kings Bay/Crystal River which has a “no-touch rule,” says some tour companies encourage touching the manatees. He says that practice has to stop, adding that manatees are being hurt by too many collisions.

“The blunt trauma is probably the worst, and the second was skegs or sharp-object trauma, either the prop or the skegs, that’s what we see.”

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1983 to protect manatees. The comment period on the proposed rules closes Monday. More information on the proposal is online at fws.gov.

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