The Florida manatee is thriving in Kings Bay, and so is tourism.
The Florida manatee is thriving in Kings Bay, and so is tourism.
Photograph by Paul Nicklen

When Push Comes to Shove

The Florida manatee is thriving in Kings Bay, and so is tourism. Therein lies the problem.

The welcome sign on the outskirts of Crystal River isn’t the kind you see every day: “Manatee Information: Tune to 1610 AM,” it reads. Then, too, not many towns have a red-white-and-blue statue of an endangered marine mammal in front of City Hall.

Stop to ask where you can see these aquatic celebrities, and you learn that a couple dozen local dive shops offer snorkeling tours in Kings Bay. Or you can rent a kayak and paddle to one of the warm springs where manatees hang out in winter. Or if you want to watch from dry land, you can head over to the canal west of Three Sisters Springs.

At the canal it takes only a few minutes before the first manatees cruise below, pale ghosts in the jade green canal. They pass alone, or with a single calf, or occasionally in groups of three or four. There’s a constant flow of people coming and going too.

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