About a week ago we were in a random Savannah antique shop, browsing and chatting with the shop owner. One thing led to another and she ended up mentioning a place in Florida where you can swim with manatees. “It’s the only place in the world where you can do this,” she said. Our ears perked. Within a few minutes we decided to take a detour to the place she mentioned: Crystal River. And, within a few hours we had reserved a float boat and scuba gear.
I love that we can do that! Change our plans at the drop of dime, or in this case, when an elderly woman’s eyes light up. Crystal River…. she said, and her face flushed with excitement. And so, Crystal River, here we come!
We parked the tiny house at Lake Rousseau RV Park. It was packed! We leveled the house, detached our truck and began to plug-in, only to discover that the electric hook-up for our site was 50 amp (we use 30 amp or 110). Lesson learned – always check first. The office was closed, but luckily we found an after-hours manager and explained our debacle. He supplied us with an adaptor, and then was almost embarrassed to ask: “Could my wife maybe take a look inside your home? She’s seen a few on television…”
The next morning Guillaume and I went to Crystal Lodge Dive Center to pick up our rental gear and boat. We were required to watch a safety video, not for OUR safety but for the manatees’s safety. No touching! No poking! No chasing! No feeding! Etc. Of course, we would never do any of these things. But as the day went on, I witnessed how others would.
Crystal River is a small, shallow fresh water bay, only a few miles in length and boasts to be the home to over 500 manatees. The bay is divided up into areas for: 1). Scuba & Snorkeling, 2). Boating, and 3). Manatee Sanctuaries (no one is allowed to enter). The manatees stick mostly to the sanctuaries, and I don’t blame them. People are loud, violent, fast and scary. The sanctuaries are the only place where they can sleep in peace.
Guillaume and I went on two dives in the deepest part of the bay (about 35 feet). The water was murky and the visibility was terrible. Where’s the “crystal” part of this river? While we were under, I lost Guillaume for a few minutes and started to freak out. I wasn’t sure which way was up or down, nor whether I had gone right or left. I tried to stay still, hoping he would find me. It was a horrible feeling: floating in the dark….listening to my own breath. In and out. In and out. It only lasted a few moments, because soon after I found him. And for the rest of the dive, I didn’t take him out of my sight.
Next we headed to Three Sisters Springs, and as we cruised the canal, I saw my first wild manatee swim right under our boat! A few moments later a nearby kayaker shrieked happily that there were two right beside her!
Guillaume and I anchored at the entrance of Three Sisters Springs, a series of three small coves. Here the water was (as advertised) crystal clear, and it was very shallow. We snorkeled down the small canal leading to the coves.
“Watch out he’s coming right at you!” Guillaume yelled.
I put my face back down in the water, and I saw a seven foot manatee swimming right for me! With only a few seconds to spare, I quickly darted out of his way.
I came up out of the water, grinning. “Did you see it??” Guillaume asked. “Are you kidding? We were almost in a head on collision!!” I replied giddily, full of adrenaline. That moment alone, was worth our trip to Crystal River.
Thirty minutes later, deep in the three sisters cove, we watched a baby manatee breast feed. Did you know that a manatee has nipples behind its fins? The more you know. A nearby tour guide announced that it was a “National Geographic Moment.” It’s funny that she said that, because we saw this photo on the Nat Geo feed later that evening. The photographer must have been right next to us!
Photograph by @paulnicklen for @natgeo and @sea_legacy A baby Manatee nurses from its mother in Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Interestingly, the teats are below the mothers flippers and not on the belly like many other marine mammals. According to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, the West Indian Manatee (Florida) is "listed as Endangered on the basis of a population size of less than 2,500 mature individuals and the population is estimated to decline by at least 20% over the next two generations (estimated at ~40 years) due to anticipated future changes in warm-water habitat and threats from increasing watercraft traffic over the next several decades". There is much pressure from many Floridians to have this species downlisted from Endangered so that they can drive their boats faster in the local waters. #nature #wildlife #manatees #florida #natureispeaking #gratitude #picoftheday #cute #Planetaphoto #PorElPlaneta @ElPlanetaPhoto #beauty @natgeocreative @thephotosociety #savethemanatee
Guillaume and I went home exuberant and sunburnt, feeling like we had just experienced something rare and extraordinary.