Snorkeling with Wild Manatees at Three Sister's Spring in Crystal River, Florida
Every winter, manatees swarm to Three Sister's Spring in Crystal River, Florida to take advantage of the warmer waters. This turns Three Sister's Spring into a snorkeling destination as people come from all over to get a glimpse of these gentle giants.
The West Indian manatee is an "imperiled species" which is protected by Florida state and federal laws. Failure to abide by these laws can cost you a $500 state fine, a $50,000 federal fine, 60 days in a state prison, and up to 1 year in a federal prison.
That being said, if you're going to snorkel with the manatees, please follow the rules below which are published by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The manatees are watched pretty closely. When I was there, there were a couple FWC officers hanging out in Canoes watching people.
- Look, but don't touch manatees. Also, don't feed manatees or give them water. If manatees become accustomed to being around people, they can alter their behavior in the wild, perhaps causing them to lose their natural fear of boats and humans, which may make them more susceptible to harm.
- Do not pursue or chase a manatee if you see one while you are swimming, snorkeling, diving, paddling or operating a boat.
- Never poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object.
- If a manatee avoids you, do not chase the animal for a closer view.
- Give manatees space to move. Avoid isolating or singling out an individual manatee from its group and do not separate a cow and her calf.
- Keep hands and objects to yourself. Don't attempt to snag, hook, hold, grab, pinch, hit or ride a manatee.
- Avoid excessive noise and splashing if a manatee appears nearby. The manatee may be resting and may surface without being aware of your presence. Noise and activity may startle the animal awake, which may put it in harm’s way if it is frightened and leaves the area.
- If the site you visit allows in-water activities near manatees, use snorkel gear and float at the surface of the water to passively observe manatees. The sound of bubbles from SCUBA gear or other devices may cause manatees to leave the area.