Guardian Guides Program
The Guardian Guides Manatee Stewardship Program’s goal is to provide sustainable, world-class ecotourism opportunities for in- and on-water visitors to Crystal River and Citrus County, Florida, in order to promote stewardship of manatees, their aquatic ecosystem, and the surrounding springshed.
The program consists of five key principles to which tour operators and their guides must adhere on all of their tours, in addition to abiding by all other local, state, and federal regulations. To qualify as Guardian Guides, operators/guides must:
- vary the times and locations of their tours to allow manatees to rest undisturbed. This may mean starting tours later in the day or ending them earlier in the day during colder winter months.
- only allow patrons in-water if they are wearing a wetsuit and have an additional flotation device. Guests and guides must observe manatees passively, not reach out or touch them. Guests and their guides should also maintain a distance of at least one human body length away from manatees when visibility and conditions allow.
- accompany their guests in-water for all segments of the tour and have no more than 12 guests per guide.
- prevent over-crowding at viewing sites and help create a high-quality visitor experience while avoiding manatee disturbance.
- create stewardship among guests and operators/guides since protection of natural resources is a key component of ecotourism.
Operators interested in applying to the program must do so in writing and commit to standards that apply to all of their guides leading tours in Citrus County. A full year of demonstrated adherence to the program principles is required before Guardian Guide designation can be granted. The program requires annual review and re-certification.