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. But the existing protected areas were not large enough to fit them all, so in 2012, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) established the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge to increase protections in the bay and to accommodate for the higher numbers. Defenders of Wildlife helped this effort become a reality, but there is still work to do to ensure that the bay provides a safer haven for these unique animals.
While the creation of the refuge was a great step in the right direction, manatees throughout the existing network of sanctuaries and other protections in Kings Bay are still vulnerable to being hit by fast-moving boats in the watersports area, or to being 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drafted its Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Crystal River refuge. Defenders took the opportunity to voice our concerns over harassment of manatees and the need for better rules to protect the animals, and for those rules to be better enforced. These efforts and the establishment of the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge resulted in the Service placing clear signs and clearly marked slow speed zones along these waterways, created new regulations to protect manatees from harassment, and provided for immediate expansion of sanctuaries by national wildlife refuge managers to protect manatees during cold weather.
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 complete 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 the process of making Kings Bay safer for manatees. The Service is currently updating their conservation plan for Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and we are providing input on ways the agency can make waters safer and reduce harassment of manatees at Three Sisters Spring and other areas in Kings Bay.