The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), established principally and primarily for the management and protection of Florida manatees, is implementing a small, preliminary summer manatee resting area (less than 4 acres; see graphic representation, below) for manatees within Refuge waters around Banana Island, beginning Friday morning. The designated restricted area, comprised exclusively of refuge waters, will be delineated by standard refuge markers and float lines.
Over the past five weeks, the Refuge has received several reports from tour operators regarding manatee use in specific areas around Banana Island. These video and photo reports include mother and calf pairs resting and nursing in Refuge waters. “We see more manatees using this area each summer, particularly mothers and calves, while the pressure from [summer] visitors has overwhelmingly increased in recent years. Most of the summer visitors are unguided and unfamiliar with “Manatee Manners”. We support providing manatees with a summer resting area of their own”, said Mike Dunn, tour operator for Manatees in Paradise, and a member of Manatee Eco-Tourism Association (META).
A recent review of aerial survey data from 2004 to 2014 reveals that the area is frequented by cow/calf pairs during summer months; with an average of 17 manatees sighted in the area from April to October. Designating this small area within refuge waters is a precautionary approach to provide manatees with a place an area free of any potential disturbance.
The closed area will provide an estimated local population of over 30 summer manatees with a no- disturbance habitat area. The area is ideal for calving due to its shallow nature within a confined area adjacent to several springs (e.g. King Spring and Mullet Hole). “Site-fidelity isn’t just a winter adaptation for manatees. When manatees know a certain area is safe or ideal for a certain need, they will use it consistently, whether for resting, calving, feeding, nursing, or other behaviors”, noted Ivan Vicente, Visitor Services Specialist, Crystal River NWR.
Staff will continue, throughout the summer, to monitor manatee use of the area to help inform future management decisions. In addition, the Refuge will mobilize the Manatee Watch Volunteer Program to help monitor manatee use while educating visitors about the summer manatee population.
To become familiar with the year-round manatee manners on Kings Bay, visit http://www.fws.gov/crystalriver. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service