TopKayaker.Net's Guide To Nature Issues For Kayakers

From: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:


Manatees are completely herbivorous. They eat aquatic plants and can consume 10-15% of their body weight daily in vegetation.

Sea grasses are the principal food for endangered marine herbivores such as manatees and green sea turtles, act as natural filters to help purify the water, and provide a suitable environment for a wide variety of marine life.

Boaters, including kayakers, should make all available attempts to avoid running through sea grass beds.

Navigation charts identify sea grass beds as light green or marked as "grs" on the chart.

Boaters should make all possible attempts to stay within channels when unfamiliar with a waterway. Avoid taking shortcuts through sea grass beds to avoid causing propeller scars.

It is a violation of Florida law to damage sea grass beds in some areas within state waters.

Tracy Colson documents the ever increasing pressure manatees face each winter as tourists flock to Crystal River, Florida, for an opportunity to swim with the manatees.

Manatee Interaction Guide For Kayakers -
Including How To Choose An Outfitter
Contributed by Save the Manatee Club with minor edits by TopKayaker.net. Please read also "Florida's Winter Manatee Migration"

Passive observation (observing from a distance) is the best way to protect manatees and all wildlife. You actually have the most to gain by remaining at a distance.

By quietly observing manatees, you will get a rare opportunity to see the natural behavior of these unique animals. Interaction should only happen if they come to you. If you see manatees while swimming, diving, or boating, please follow these suggestions:

  • Don't paddle toward them. If they are in your path, gently change direction and give them a wide birth. Observe manatees from the surface of the water and keep a comfortable distance. One important reason for this is that they could be attempting to eat, nurse a calf, or more importantly, come up to breathe.

  • Use snorkel gear when attempting to swim with manatees -- the sound of scuba gear may cause them to leave the area. "Look, but don't touch" -- Petting or touching may seem like playing with them but they could be swimming to get to the surface for air so avoid contact. Keep your group small so as not to frighten them. Especially don't "corral" manatees. Many tour groups make this mistake.

  • Do not enter designated manatee sanctuaries for any reason. Observe all posted signs and protection zone requirements. Often kayakers, and even swimmers or snorkelers assume that because they are not motorized the signs do not apply to them, but they do!


  • Avoid excessive noise and splashing.

  • Don't feed manatees or give them water.

  • Read and view the sea grass information to the right...

  • Call 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FMP or #FWC on your cellular phone, or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio if you see an injured, dead, tagged or orphaned manatee, or if you see a manatee being harassed.

Manatees are protected by state and federal law. It is illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. Harassment includes riding, poking, chasing, surrounding or corraling for this or just a photo. Anything that disrupts a manatee's normal behavior is a violation of law, punishable under federal law up to a $50,000 fine, one-year imprisonment or both.

SMC Kayak Tours:

Beginning in December and running through February, Save the Manatee Club offers the "Do Not Disturb" kayak tours. The tours, which take place in Crystal River, Florida, provide an alternative way to view manatees without disrupting their natural behavior.

The kayak tours are offered by the Save The Manatees Club is in conjunction with Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company. The cost is $40 per person and includes an experienced guide, kayak, paddle, and life jacket. Aardvark's will generously donate 50% of each tour fee to Save the Manatee Club. The Sit-on-top Kayaks they offer for rent include the Hurricane Phoenix 12, 13, 14, & 16 and the Heritage Tandem.

Crystal River/Kings Bay is the winter home to hundreds of manatees. When the weather cools down, manatees gather at natural springs such as those found in the Crystal River area. Each kayak trip starts with an educational briefing to discuss proper etiquette for observing manatees as well as basic kayaking tips. Then it's time to begin a wonderful morning of paddling through the waters of Crystal River. Along the way, you'll get a chance to view manatees in the wild and learn about the local flora and fauna. You'll be done by around 12:30 p.m., with time to explore the local shops and restaurants of the area.

The three-hour tours are kept small in number and include a maximum of 20 participants. Tour participants must be Save the Manatee Club members and their guests and have to be 13 years of age or older. In addition, an adult must accompany anyone under the age of 18. Tour participants are responsible for all travel, hotel, meals, and other expenses. Once you sign up, we'll send you an itinerary including information about area hotels.

So call Save the Manatee Club now at 1-800-432-JOIN (5646) to reserve your spot. They will need at least two weeks notice to book your tour. Phone reservations only. Please call during regular business hours: Monday - Friday, 8:30 - 4:30 EST.

In addition, there are several outfitters known for their responsible approach to providing kayakers with a good experience.

>>>Return to: "Florida's Winter Manatee Migration"

All facts, photos & copy contributed by: Save the Manatee Club with some minor edits by TopKayaker.net - The Florida Manatee Recovery Plan was developed as a result of the Endangered Species Act. The recovery plan is coordinated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and sets forth a list of tasks geared toward recovering manatees from their current endangered status. Save the Manatee Club is part of the Manatee Recovery Team, which carries out the tasks in the plan under the auspices of the USFWS. In addition, SMC is part of the Manatee Technical Advisory Council, which makes recommendations to government officials on manatee protection issues. To participate, contribute and learn more visit savethemanatee.org - Permissions granted by Nancy Sadusky Director of Online Communications, SMC.


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