Help End Manatee Harassment
in Citrus County, Florida!

Videos show people grabbing, walking on, and riding manatees

The Issue:

Touching, riding, or chasing manatees can be considered harassment under the Endangered Species Act.
(Photo © David R. Schrichte.)

Each winter, 80,000 - 100,000 people visit the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge to snorkel and dive with endangered manatees, and thousands more go to swim with manatees in the Blue Waters area of the Homosassa River.

Inevitably, many of these visitors want to touch the manatees or interact with them in some way. Manatees are protected under the Endangered Species Act, so grabbing them, feeding, surrounding, or chasing them can be considered harassment and is therefore illegal. But local, state, and federal law enforcement officers are limited in numbers and unable to adequately monitor the area, so there are many incidents of manatee harassment each year.

Recently, a video shot at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge shows people grabbing, walking on, and riding manatees. And the St. Petersburg Times has featured several news articles documenting the manatee harassment in this area (see more articles and video below).

Manatee Abuse Caught on Tape
Read an article in the St. Petersburg Times
See the video mentioned in the article


Manatees need these wildlife refuges for survival in the winter!  When people try to touch or pursue manatees, they can alter the manatee's behavior in the wild, perhaps causing them to leave a warm water area, which makes them susceptible to potential harm. Also, people can inadvertently separate a mother and calf by trying to touch manatees. Manatee calves depend on the care of their mothers for up to two years, so a calf that is separated from his or her mother could ultimately die without her.

What You Can Do:

Citrus County, where both the refuge and Blue Waters area are located, is the only place in Florida where swimming with manatees is allowed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) grants special use permits to tour businesses that operate in waters around the refuge, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) allows public access to part of the Blue Waters area, even when seasonal no-entry zones are in effect.

The USFWS is currently working on a new comprehensive management plan for the refuge, and the FWC executive director has promised that the recent harassment incident will be investigated.

Please write to staff at both of these agencies and let them know your thoughts on the issue. In addition, ask them to

  • Protect the manatees in the refuge and Blue Waters area by expanding the no-entry sanctuary areas.
  • Limit the number of people allowed near the sanctuary areas in the winter, unless harassment stops.
  • Adopt a strict “no touch” policy when it comes to manatees in ALL areas of Florida.
  • Require educational training for all those who may dive at these areas in the winter.
  • Hold tour operators responsible for the actions of their customers and impose fines for those who don’t monitor their customers.
  • Strengthen law enforcement efforts in the areas or create a better monitoring system and prosecute appropriately those people who violate the rules.

Send an e-mail to: (copy and paste into your e-mail message)
chassahowitzka@fws.gov, kenneth.haddad@fwc.state.fl.us, southeast@fws.gov

Your e-mail will be going to: 
James Kraus, Refuge Manager, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
Ken Haddad, Executive Director, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Sam Hamilton, Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region

Suggested subject line: Please Stop Manatee Harassment


Thank you for your help on this important issue for manatees!

Additional Contact Information:

James Kraus, Refuge Manager
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex
1502 S.E. Kings Bay Drive
Crystal River, FL 34429
E-mail: Chassahowitzka@fws.gov

Ken Haddad, Executive Director
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
620 South Meridian Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600
E-mail: kenneth.haddad@fwc.state.fl.us

Sam Hamilton, Regional Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Southeast Regional Headquarters
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 400
Atlanta, GA 30345
E-mail: southeast@fws.gov

If you would like to do more to help:

  • Contact U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez from Florida and urge them to restore personnel funding for refuge staff and research at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

  • Send a letter to the St. Petersburg Times editor and let them know how much you appreciate the superb job they have done in reporting on this and other important manatee issues. (Unless they hear from enough people they are likely to close the paper’s Citrus County Bureau, and we are concerned that manatee stories won't get the coverage they need.)

See other videos and articles:

Manatee Paparazzi
Another video documenting harassment at Crystal River

Blue Spring and Crystal River
A video comparison of manatee viewing practices at both locations

Please Don't Ride The Manatees
Read an article in the St. Petersburg Times documenting
harassment in the Homosassa River

Manatee Petting: Just Good Fun Or Harassment?
Read an article in the St. Petersburg Times
View the accompanying video