Snorkling With The Manatees

Crystal River
A while back a dear friend of mine told me that she went snorkeling with the manatees. Ah, I was in tuned to listen to how amazing the experience was & I got excited about it very much. I haven’t been snorkeling with the manatees while I’ve been in Florida, but I have been to snorkeling with sea lions in Baja.  A huge insight of excitement went off when I heard that you could actually do it Florida. Apparently Crystal River is “home” to snorkeling with the manatees, the welcome sign on the outskirts states: “Manatee Information: Tune to 1610 AM”. It’s the only place in Florida where it’s legal to do such an incredible thing. My friend recommended me to American Pro Diving Center. The water temperature is a constant 72degrees F (25 C), the city is located around the magnificent Kings Bay, which is spring-fed.  A wetsuit is needed for the adventure. Yes, highly suggest wearing one. Not only my Divermaster two cents will come into play here, but also to keep warm in the water it’s only wise to wear one. Ahh… the manatees, don’t I just love mammals?
Recently, National Geographic did a beautiful story in the April 2013 edition of the magazine about the manatees in Florida.  To see the actual article go to: Amazing photos were done by Photographer Paul Nicklin, can be viewed: Also a map of where to find the manatees in Florida:
The West Indian Manatee is an endangered species; they live in the shallow warm waters & sadly to say that boats are the cause of most of the causality. In the winter you can see them migrating to the warm waters by power plants. Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammal sometimes known as the sea cow. They can be up to 13 feet (4 meters) long, weigh as much as 1,300 pounds (590 kilos) & have paddle-like flippers. They are found in the same family as whale, dolphins & cetaceans, but are more closely related to elephants. They lack a blubber layer & you will not see these giant cows like mammals in colder waters like whales. Manatees diet is primarily vegetation that feed on more than 60 species of plants that includes turtle grass, manatee grass, shoal grass, mangrove leaves, various algae, water hyacinth, acorns, and hydrilla. 
There are a couple of trips daily year round from American Pro Dive where you meet at the dive center at 7:00AM, 8:30AM or Noon. It’s best to do the earlier tours because manatees are easier to find in the morning. The dive center does guarantee that you will see manatees at any one of these times, not to worry if you can’t make the morning times. I prefer to go diving in the morning; it’s a great way to start your day. But sometimes that is not always the case & got to enjoy the moment before it’s lost!  The first half hour is devoted to a briefing on the manatees do’s & don’t with a short video & setting up with gear. However, since I’m a Divemaster, but I don’t have my own equipment I opted not to do the dive for a numerous reasons, but I did do the snorkeling! Yes, snorkeling is just as enjoyable & more “relax” than diving. Don’t forget to equalize your ears before going into the water though. There’s this great article on how to do it on PADI Sport Diver Magazine:
Snorkelers With A Manatee
The dive shop was awesome. The staff was all very friendly & helpful to all the people who walked threw the door. I was shocked to see how clean it was considering that I am used to diving in the third world where proper hygiene is not always thought of as how it is in the first world. After I got sorted with my gear & all the other snorkelers showed up we got split up into a couple of different groups of the snorkel briefing. Basically it was to watch an US Fish & Wildlife Service video that is required by law in Florida.  You are not allowed to chase & harasses the manatees, if you so do, it is a $500 Florida fine & up to $1,000 Federal fine. The manatees are protected under the Marine Protection Act & The Endanger Species Act to name a couple of the big laws protecting them.  Zac was the captain/dive master/video chronicler for the platoon boat that I was in. Right after the briefing I got in the car and followed the American Pro Dive truck & boat to Pete’s Pier where we took off on the adventure.
Pete's Pier
Shortly after leaving the dock at Pete’s Pier Zac spotted a few manatees in the Crystal River National Wildlife Park. Surprising the water was very warm with the wetsuit & only three feet deep, basically shallow water.  The visibility was very murky, but it was rather fun to walk along the bottom of the river.  I did have an amazing encounter with the first manatee by hovering over it for quite some time. Manatees are very genteel & friendly.  The second manatee was awesome, not only was it a calf, but very playful. I got to eye it, which was pretty sweet, & not forget to touch it & had it sitting on my leg for a while.  Overall, I had an amazing morning! I highly recommend snorkeling with the manatees. Don't forget to check out Save The Manatee too a nonprofit set up by Jimmy Buffett to protect the manatees.
Oh, before I forget, if you’re looking for accommodations in the area, check out the Holiday Inn Express Crystal River.  Best bet is to call them & say that you’re diving with American Pro Dive to get the best rate. Also, I did eat at Cracker's & it was quite good. A great place to grab a pint is Burkes Of Ireland, they have a great selection of well crafted brews on tap & in bottles.  You definitely would want to spend some time exploring the area! 

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