Crystal River, Florida — The feds are looking to further crack down on swimmers at a popular tourist destination to help our manatees.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to go from a 29-swimmer limit to 13, including required guides, at Three Sisters Springs.
After reviewing more than 2,600 comments from citizens, local leaders and the business community, the FWS released a revised draft of their Environmental Assessment for public comment that it believes better matches up its need to protect manatees with local tourism and business interests and its partnership with the City of Crystal River.
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“The Service received comments that helped us think differently about options we have to manage access to the Springs and at the same time protect manatees,” said James Burnett, project leader for the Service’s North Florida National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Crystal River NWR. “That’s why we put together a refined alternative and wanted to provide it to citizens across our community for a second look. We think it takes into account the variety of the comments we received and helps us improve the management of these incredible animals.”
The rules would apply during the winter when manatees travel to the springs to keep warm.
It also proposes changes to how people will access the water and limits access points. And finally, it proposes shifting responsibility for issuing permits to tour operators and dive shops from the Service to the City of Crystal River. A Memorandum of Understanding would be put in place that would clearly outline the process and how access would be managed. The FWS would continue to provide training to permit holders and manage permitted access for commercial film and photography professionals.
You can email your comments on this latest proposal through Nov. 23 to firstname.lastname@example.org. A final decision is expected to be made in December 2015.