In the book Deadly Waters, author Gloria Skurzynski, compares manatee to giant potatoes.
Not a bad description, but a potato may be more active.
These creatures are so ugly, they’re adorable.
Every year seems to be devoted to a different animal: sea turtles, black bears, moose, killer whales, grizzly bears. Last year was the year of the manatee, starting last January at Fanning Springs State Park and then at Blue Springs, Homasassa Springs, Wakula Springs, and finally swimming with them at Crystal River.
One of our goals for 2014 is to swim with the manatee. We didn’t have any luck finding manatee that we could join in the water last weekend, but spending the day on the water at Crystal River can never be considered a failure. No manatee…no problem.
We knew it was a long shot to find manatee on a day when the temperature is 90º, but we’ve seen them on summer days in the past so it was worth a try. The day quickly became a boat ride instead of a manatee swim, but what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Back at the boat ramp we met a couple with a pedal powered pontoon boat. This “green” boat uses pedal power connected to a riverboat style paddle wheel to move through the water. In addition, the boat had an electric engine powered by solar panels to provide a power boost while pedaling or as an alternative power source.
At only 14′ long and 750 pounds, the owners claimed that it was easy to maneuver and provided good exercise while enjoying a day on the river. I’m not sure I’d be too keen on taking guests since it would add extra effort, but maybe my next bike will be a pontoon boat!
After a disappointing trip to Weeki Wachee Springs, the day got much better when we stopped at Homosassa Springs on our way home. While we determined Weeki Wachee “wasn’t anything”; Homosassa was not a disappointment.
Shortly after arriving we made our way to Homosassa’s famous Fish Bowl where the people descend into an underwater observatory and watch the manatee and fish swimming in the spring that surrounds them…much more interesting than watching the mermaid show earlier in the day.
By following the paved trail and elevated boardwalk, visitors can check in on the progress of manatee being rehabilitated in the Manatee Care Center which cares for injured and orphaned animals.
The manatee at the park share the spotlight with Lu, the resident hippo, as well as the alligators. Park Rangers or volunteers lead daily educational programs teaching about the role of the American alligator in the Florida ecosystem and then feed Lu, an exotic species allowed to remain at the park since being made an honorary Florida citizen.
In addition to its more famous residents, black bears, bobcats, playful river otters and a variety of birds including owls, eagles, swan, and flamingos inhabit the park.
However, the manatee and crystal clear water of the spring remain my favorite parts of the park.
It looks like we’re going to make our goal of visiting at least fourteen of Florida’s springs this year since Homosassa Springs State Park makes number twelve!
We spent the day on Crystal River swimming and snorkeling in a couple of the springs in Kings Bay. Since the constant 72° temperature of the spring attracts manatee, we hoped to swim with the gentle creatures so we could check off another activity on the 14 in 14 list; but no such luck.
Manatee prefer the springs in the winter but finding them during the warm weather months is a bit more challenging. However, since I’m not fond of swimming when the weather’s cold, looking for the manatee on a summer day was worth a try.
We finally anchored the boat and made our way back to Three Sisters Spring, the ninth spring we’ve visited this year. Fortunately we avoided crowds by going on a Thursday morning, competing with only about two dozen swimmers and kayakers.
Even I enjoyed swimming in the refreshing water of the spring, and it was the perfect place for John to test out the underwater camera the girls gave him for Father’s Day.
We continuing exploring the Kings Bay region, and John jumped over for some more snorkeling. I decided to remain in the boat, afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back in without the aid of the shore (a good move).
No manatee, but an otherwise perfect day exploring yet another of Florida’s magnificent springs. And now we have an excuse to make a return trip!
After mooring the boat we walked the popular boardwalk which serves as a manatee observation deck. The run to the spring was crowded with a variety of fish – too bad fishing isn’t permitted in the Blue Spring Run.
And despite the fact it was not a cold day, over a dozen manatee congregated in the warm water designated as a manatee refuge. For the first time I saw a manatee tagged with a tracking device. I can only imagine the embarrassment the belt-like contraption attached to the manatee’s tail must cause as the creature drags a small buoy as it swims.
Blue Springs State Park
The boardwalk leads to the largest spring on the St. John’s River and while it’s a popular destination for swimming, snorkeling, and diving, it’s closed to those activities from mid-November until March 15 during Manatee season. In addition, St. Johns River and Cruises and Tours offer two-hour narrated tours from the park and both canoes and kayaks are available for rent.
The park is so popular during the spring and summer that it frequently closes when it reaches capacity so better to plan to be there early.
On our way back to Hontoon Island, we encountered a paddle boat and a couple of eight-man sculling boats. The sculling boats actually moved down the river more quickly than our boat since our speed was limited by the no wake requirements designed to protect the manatee.
On this date, March 3rd, in 1845, Florida entered the union as the 27th state. That sounds like reason for celebration. Make March celebrate Florida month. Can you complete ten of these Florida friendly tasks this month?
A couple of months ago I started receiving Authentic Florida, a monthly newsletter which focuses on simple and delightful pleasures for living in Florida. The newsletter highlights Florida travel and Florida living, and I’m often reminded of places I’ve visited or hope to visit.
This month’s edition included 50 Authentic Things To Do In Florida in recognition of their 50th newsletter. I was amazed at how many of these things I’ve done during the past 12 months.
“Have you ever seen this before?” I texted this message to the girls along with this picture. Sarah’s response, “Is that Big Foot taking a bath?” Well, since this is Florida, that would be Skunk Ape, not Big Foot; but the answer is still no. That’s not Skunk Ape or Big Foot. It’s a manatee.
We’re no strangers to manatee. We’ve seen them at Blue Springs, Homossasa Springs, on the St. John’s River, and on Crystal River. We’ve seen manatee in the shallow water just off the beach in Sanibel, and we’ve even had a manatee chew on the anchor rope of our boat. But, this was a first. Several manatee rolling, playing, and raising out of the water under the bridge at Blind Pass between Sanibel and Captiva. For about fifteen minutes we watched the unusual behavior.
It seems we witnessed manatee mating. According to Save the Manatee Club, this is manatee mating season and it’s not unusual for people to report herds of manatee in very shallow water “playing rough”. Some even try to rescue the animals by pushing them back out in to deeper water.
Instead, the best plan:
Watch from at least 100 feet to avoid interfering with the mating process.
Don’t push animals back into deeper water. You risk injury to yourself or the manatee.
Don’t feed or harass the animals…mating or not. They are a protected species under federal and state laws.
So not only will this be the summer of the red fox, but the summer of manatee mating as well.
Last Saturday when we pulled in the parking lot of Pete’s Pier in Crystal River the first thing I saw – a car with a “Just Married” sign plastered across the back. As I looked past the car to the pair of green Port-a-Potties I thought, “Why would anyone spend their honeymoon at Pete’s Pier?”
Then a few minutes later as we pushed off the dock and headed toward Seven Sister’s Spring I realized just how much I take for granted. Sure, Pete’s Pier isn’t anything special. Small boat ramp. Primitive bathroom facilities. No restaurant.
But what a beautiful piece of Florida. Clear water. Sunshine. Warm weather. Surrounded by wildlife. People come from all over the country, no, all over the world to visit a part of the world only an hour from home.
Approaching the spring area, the tour boats packed with divers lined the river…a reminder of how popular the river, springs, and wildlife, especially the manatee, of the area are to the thousands who visit each year.
What a great reminder that our backyard is someone else’s paradise! And, a perfect place for newlyweds to spend their honeymoon.