Ever since I heard about them, I have always been fascinated by the oceans most unusual creature; the Manatee. Also known as the sea cow, this herbivorous marine mammal is related to that other equally unusual creature, the Dugong which is found in the eastern hemisphere.
Manatees which graze on sea grass normally inhabit the marshy coastal areas of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, the Amazon Basin and West Africa. However the most popular place to spot manatees and even get a chance to scuba dive or snorkel with them is in Florida.
More specifically, the best place to spot manatees is Crystal River, Florida located 70 miles north of Tampa, which hosts several dive centers that provide you with the opportunity to swim up close and observe these gentle giants. Crystal River is known to have the highest concentration of Manatees recorded anywhere in the world and additionally boasts of warm 72 degree water all year round which is the reason the area attracts Manatees and Scuba Divers!
Most dive centers in the Crystal River area serve to educate divers about the nature and habitat of manatees from a conservation point of view. Manatees are slow moving creatures and spend most of their day eating and resting. Once hunted for their skin and meat, Manatees are now an endangered species protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Specials Act of 1973, which make it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. Additionally the Manatee is specifically protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 which imposes heavy fines and imprisonment for hunting or harassing them.
The official season for Florida Manatee is early October to the end of March, however manatee can be found in certain sites throughout the year. Apart from diving with Manatees, the Crystal River hosts several clear springs which are extremely popular with divers. The Hunter’s spring, the three sisters’ spring and the King’s spring are some of the favorites. Crystal River is fed by hot springs and has several, underwater caverns, and a wide variety of wildlife such as tarpons, redfish, grouper and dolphins.
So if you haven’t done so already, why not try this is a once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity, where you can swim alongside these gentle giants as they play, eat, and socialize with one another in the true to its name Crystal River Florida.