Learn more about Florida’s efforts and where visitors can admire these gentle giants

Date: 24 May 2021

Sea cows, otherwise known as manatees, are a staple of Florida’s waters. They live in the serene blue waters of the state for much of the year and, when the weather gets a bit chillier, settle in the state’s freshwater springs. Throughout Florida, visitors can get a chance to see these beautiful aquatic creatures in their natural habitats and can get up close and personal with manatees. Spending time around this gentle creature is key to understanding why Florida is working hard to preserve this endangered species and restore their habitats.

Florida has always strived to protect its natural surroundings and preserve the species that inhabit them. Earlier this month, the latest effort to help manatees rebound from a year that has been one of the deadliest for the threatened species was announced. The Florida House of Representatives proposed $8 million of general revenue, through its supplemental funding list, to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to help the state’s beloved endangered manatee population. Even though the House’s allotment is slated to be nonrecurring, the funding is more than double the usual manatee recovery subsidy and marks Tallahassee’s latest effort to protect manatees.

Locally, Crystal River’s highly successful multi-year Kings Bay Restoration Project is expanding this summer and may soon become the standard for restoring troubled coastal waters that manatees rely on elsewhere in Florida. After the pilot project’s success, the Florida Legislature continued funding follow-up phases and currently a total of 92 acres of the 600-acre Kings Bay are under restoration as part of a $40 million, seven-year project, and already over halfway complete.

Dedicated to replanting native eel grass, the project continues to remove toxic algae in the region that reduced oxygen levels and killed off food sources for numerous creatures, the manatee among them. “There’s more food for the manatees,” says in-water ecotour guide John Spann of the Plantation Adventure Center, “and more are staying in Kings Bay year-round instead of leaving at the end of winter.”  “I wasn’t sure it was going to work when they started,” say’s Spann, “but it’s a day-and-night difference.”

Another local advocacy group—Save the Homosassa River—has also secured State funding to begin similar work on the nearby Homosassa River.

As an endangered species, manatees face an uncertain future, but through funding and initiatives, the state of Florida can continue to work hard to ensure that visitors will continue to see these magnificent beasts and swim beside them for years to come.

Visitors can enjoy watching manatees in their winter habitat of Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River along the area’s boardwalk. You can also hop on a clear kayak to see them navigate through clear waters. For a closer look, there are guided sightseeing tour below the surface where you can snorkel beside manatees.

At Homosassa Springs, manatees are just one of the countless creatures that call this wildlife state park home. For a new way to sightsee, you can check out the natural spring bowl by paddleboard with River Adventure Tours.

In the cooler months, head on down to Manatee Springs State Park, where the landscape’s namesake can be seen while visitors walk along the sprawling 800-foot boardwalk. This first-magnitude spring is a sight to behold all its own, and the manatees that populate its waters are just the cherry on top.

Looking to not only see manatees but learn more about them? Then Manatee Lagoon should be your next stop, an eco-discovery center dedicated toward educating the community as well as inspiring others to help preserve and protect these fascinating creatures. There are a range of exhibits fit for guests of all ages and gorgeous waterfront views, amounting to the perfect destination to bring the family.

Click here for more information about manatees in Florida.

As the Sunshine State’s No. 1 industry, tourism was responsible for welcoming 79.8 million visitors in 2020, a decrease from the record 131.4 million visitors in 2019, attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the latest economic impact study, Florida visitors contributed $96.5 billion to Florida's economy and supported 1.6 million Florida jobs in 2019. According to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, for every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, the official tourism marketing corporation for the State of Florida, $3.27 in tax revenue is generated. VISIT FLORIDA promotes tourism to Florida through sales, advertising, promotions, public relations and visitor services programs. As a public/private partnership, VISIT FLORIDA serves more than 13,000 tourism industry businesses, including major strategic alliance partnerships with Busch Gardens Tampa, Disney Destinations, Hilton, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort. To learn more about VISIT FLORIDA follow @FloridaTourism on Facebook and Twitter or visit www.visitflorida.org. For inspiration from the Sunshine State, follow @VISITFLORIDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit www.visitflorida.com. For media resources, visit www.visitfloridamedia.com.

Hannah Mulvey