The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has created a manatee refuge for all of Kings Bay, the site of the animal’s largest winter habitat in Florida. For decades, tourists have come to Crystal River in Kings Bay to swim with the endangered animals. But love has sometimes turned to harassment as rising manatee numbers coupled with increased boat traffic make it hard for the manatees to escape the attention. The new refuge was established under the emergency rule provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It joins an existing network of 11 federal manatee sanctuaries and 13 refuges. Manatee sanctuaries - where all waterborne activities are prohibited - already exist in Kings Bay, and this emergency rule will not change those existing sanctuaries, according to the USFWS press release. But those existing sanctuaries were deemed too small now to adequately protect manatees in the bay. The USFWS, therefore, felt that establishing a refuge for all of Kings Bay was necessary to provide an area of adequate size where manatees can rest, free from disturbance. Creation of the new refuge allows the USFWS to, among other things, quickly move in and post "no-entry" areas where needed.
"The Kings Bay federal manatee refuge designation expands vital access for manatees to warm water habitat during the coldest months of the year, while clarifying what swimmers and others cannot do when in the presence of manatees," said USFWS North Florida Field Supervisor Dave Hankla.