Help End Manatee Harassment
in Crystal River, Florida!

The Issue:

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

Each winter, over 100,000 people visit the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to snorkel and dive with endangered manatees. 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 due to budget cuts, there has been a severe staff reduction and law enforcement includes only one full-time officer who divides his time among 5 separate wildlife refuges, so there are many incidents of manatee harassment each year.

Recently, videographer Mark Santa-Maria won an award at an international underwater film competition for his video Choice for Change, which documents several incidents of manatee harassment at the refuge:

manatee harassment video

See the Video
See the award-winning video that documents manatee harassment at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

Read an Article
on the issue in the Citrus County Chronicle.

Manatees need this wildlife refuge 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.

Get more background on the issue

How Close is Too Close When Humans Meet Manatees?
Read an article in the St. Petersburg Times
on the recent meeting in Crystal River, FL

Managing Manatees
Read an article on the manatee harassment
issue in the St. Petersburg Times

What You Can Do:

1. Please Submit Your Comments for the CCP
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently working on a new Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Crystal River NWR. Please ask them to:

  • Strengthen law enforcement efforts in the areas or create a better monitoring system and prosecute appropriately those people who violate the rules.
  • Hold tour operators responsible for the actions of their customers and impose fines for those who don't monitor their customers.
  • Adopt a strict "no touch" policy when it comes to manatees.
  • Limit the number of people allowed near the sanctuary areas in the winter, unless harassment stops.
  • Protect the manatees in the refuge by expanding the no-entry sanctuary areas.
  • Require educational training for all those who may dive at this refuge in the winter.
  • Acquire the Three Sisters Springs and surrounding lands as refuge property.
  • Create additional staff positions, including a Public Use staff person and a Law Enforcement Officer for the Crystal River Refuge exclusively.
  • Allocate special endangered species funds for the Crystal River NWR.
  • Eliminate the Water Sports Zone in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

Send an e-mail to: (copy and paste into your e-mail message),

Your e-mail will be going to: 
James Kraus, Refuge Manager,
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

Joyce Kleen, Wildlife Biologist
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

Suggested subject line: Comments on the Crystal River Management Plan

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

Additional Contact Information:

Joyce Kleen, Wildlife Biologist
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex
1502 S.E. Kings Bay Drive
Crystal River, FL 34429