BREAKING: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the establishment of a manatee refuge in the waters of Florida’s Kings Bay that will expand protections for manatees at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.
The new rules designate most of Kings Bay as a slow-speed area, limit high-speed activities in a popular summer water sports area, provide temporary no-entry areas and allow for expansion of “manatee sanctuary” areas where waterborne activities would be prohibited on especially cold days to shelter manatees. The regulations also ban chasing or pursuing manatees, disturbing or touching them while they are feeding or resting, and separating a mother and a calf.
Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said, “Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the most important wintering site for manatees in northwest Florida and one of the best places to see manatees in the entire state. By adopting these new rules, the Fish and Wildlife Service has taken a first step towards helping the refuge better serve its purpose—to safeguard this vulnerable marine mammal. However, without the removal of the dangerous high-speed water sports zone, manatees and people will continue to be at risk in Kings Bay.”
Due to its naturally occurring warm water springs, Kings Bay, Fla. has been increasingly popular among wintering manatees. But despite the existing network of sanctuaries and other protections in Kings Bay, it remains a very dangerous waterway as manatees are hit by fast-moving boats and harassed by tourists wanting to interact with them. Having flexibility for managers to increase the area and duration of warm-water sanctuary areas will help ensure that manatees in Kings Bay will survive cold winters.