Manatees, appearing as large dark gray or brown objects in clear water, are often observed swimming, resting, or feeding near seagrass beds in the coastal areas of Citrus County. In darker waters, manatees are more difficult to see, but may be identified by their dark, round snouts when the manatee breaks the surface of the water to breathe. Large, circular swirls in the water may also indicate the presence of manatees.
Manatees are gentle and slow-moving. Most of their time is spent eating, resting, and in travel. Manatees are completely herbivorous. They eat aquatic plants and can consume 10-15% of their body weight daily in vegetation. They graze for food along water bottoms and on the surface. They may rest submerged at the bottom or just below the surface, coming up to breathe on the average of every three to five minutes. When manatees are using a great deal of energy, they may surface to breathe as often as every 30 seconds.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service(USFWS) has designated seasonal sanctuaries within Crystal River, The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, where manatees can rest, feed, mate and give birth. Additional sanctuaries are still under consideration. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has established manatee protection boating speed zones to reduce the number of manatees that are injured or killed by boat propellers and hull impacts. The following are basic common-sense rules that should be followed when you are in or near these designated areas…
- Wear polarized sunglasses while operating a boat.
- Be alert to signs of manatee presence such as swirls, or the tip of the snout breaking the water when surfacing to breath.
- Stay within marked channels. Avoid shallow grass beds where manatees feed and rest.
- Follow all posted speed zones and caution signs. Manatees move slowly and have trouble evading boats at higher speeds.
- DO NOT ENTER a manatee sanctuary for any reason. Designated manatee sanctuaries are closed to all waterborne activities including fishing.
- DO NOT FEED, PURSUE or CHASE manatees while boating or swimming. This is defined as harassment and is against the law.
- Stow your trash and retrieve any discarded fishing line and hooks. Manatees can be injured or killed by swallowing plastic debris or becoming entangled in abandoned mono-filament or trap line.
- Report injured, dead or tagged manatees to the FWC Law Enforcement at 1-888-404-FWCC or VHF Channel 16, and to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Reserve.