Guardian Guides Manatee Stewardship Program
For further information, contact:
Katie Tripp, Ph.D.
Director of Science & Conservation
Save the Manatee Club
Phone: (407) 539-0990
Manatee Eco Tourism Association of Citrus County
Phone: (352) 795-7033
For Immediate Release
Save the Manatee Club (SMC) and the Manatee Eco Tourism Association (META) are pleased to announce a new, jointly-developed initiative: The Guardian Guides Manatee Stewardship Program. The program’s overarching 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.
Mike Engiles, META President, states, “The Manatee Eco Tourism Association (META) is excited to partner with SMC to provide a program that recognizes the companies committed to setting the standard for an exemplary swim-with-the-manatee program that ensures the preservation of manatees and the sustainability of the manatee eco-tourism industry.”
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.
Dr. Katie Tripp, SMC’s Director of Science and Conservation, is pleased to see these guidelines become a reality. She explains, “Creation of industry guidelines has been a goal of ours for a number of years. We’re grateful for the collaborative process that made this program possible. SMC’s goal has always been to minimize instances of manatee harassment. We believe these guidelines, if followed, will significantly curb disturbance of manatees caused by in-water and on-water tours, which is good for manatees, tour companies, and everyone concerned with safeguarding manatees now and in the future.”
The Guardian Guides Manatee Stewardship Program will operate as a pilot program until November 2017, at which time the groups hope to move forward with full implementation for the 2017-2018 winter manatee tourism season. 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.