Defenders in Action: Crystal River
Due to its naturally occurring warm water springs, the waters of Kings Bay, Florida—home to the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge—have been increasingly popular among wintering manatees. Because the existing protected areas are not large enough to fit them all, in 2011, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed the establishment of a manatee refuge to increase protections in the bay and to accommodate for the higher numbers. Defenders of Wildlife helped this effort become a reality and ensure the bay provides a safe haven for these unique animals.
Despite the existing network of sanctuaries and other protections in Kings Bay, it remains a very dangerous waterway as manatees are hit by fast-moving boats and harassed by tourists wanting to interact with them.
How We're Helping
The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1983—the only refuge created for the purpose of protecting manatees. In 2008, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission drafted its Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Crystal River refuge. Defenders took this opportunity to voice concerns over harassment of manatees by people and the need for increased protection and enforcement of rules regarding interaction with the animals. As a result of these efforts, the signs in waterways have improved and regulations to protect manatees from harassment and in speed zones are more uniform.
In 2011, an amendment filed by Florida Congressional Representative Rich Nugent sought to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from finalizing or implementing its proposed rule to establish a manatee refuge in the waters of Kings Bay. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Defenders and other conservation groups, the amendment—and several other anti-wildlife riders on the same piece of legislation—was struck down.
Where We Are Today
Defenders activists submitted almost 54,000 comments in support of the FWS’s rule to establish the Kings Bay manatee refuge. And although the final rule, announced March 15, 2012, did not include the removal of the dangerous high-speed water sports zone, their adoption is a first step towards safeguarding this vulnerable marine mammal. Defenders will continue to work with the Service as they move through this process of making Kings Bay safer for manatees.