Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Federal officials say they will continue to allow people to swim with the manatees in Crystal River

Wildlife officials have denied a group’s request to ban the controversial but popular encounters with manatees, such as this one where a member of a tour interacts with a young manatee.

RON THOMPSON | Times (2006)

Wildlife officials have denied a group’s request to ban the controversial but popular encounters with manatees, such as this one where a member of a tour interacts with a young manatee.

CRYSTAL RIVER — People who enjoy swimming with manatees in Citrus County's coastal waters don't need to pack away their masks and snorkels.

Federal wildlife officials have denied an environmental watchdog's request to end the popular but controversial activity.

However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did concede that there are a growing number of complaints of manatee harassment because some swimmers aren't following the rules.

Agency officials said they take harassment seriously and will work with the community, state wildlife officials and other interested partners to strengthen manatee protections. That could involve more manatee sanctuaries and other regulatory changes.

That's not good enough for Christine Erickson, staff counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which sought to ban swimming with manatees.

"What we find most troubling is that they contradict themselves a lot" in the response, she said.

The federal agency agrees that swimmers don't always follow the rules and that the term "harassment" needs better definition.

However, the agency's response noted that after increased observations in the area, "officers identified very few events that warranted the issuance of citations."

"Yet we have extensive evidence to the contrary," Erickson said, referring to hours of video shot in the area showing swimmers hitting, kicking and chasing the endangered manatees out of their critical habitats.

Erickson said his group will now seek federal records to back up the agency's claims about the lack of harassment, proof that letting businesses run the manatee encounters cuts harassment, and specific actions it will take to protect manatees.

If those requests don't satisfy the organization's concerns, "it's highly likely that we will start preparing litigation," Erickson said.

Save the Manatee Club does not want to ban swimming with manatees, but the group does want more regulation of it. The club wants swimmers to stay at least 10 feet from manatees, to ban touching, to prohibit swim fins and to require flotation devices so swimmers stay at the water's surface.

Pat Rose, the club's executive director, said his group also is working with agencies and partners on new rules and expanded sanctuaries.

"We're adamant about stopping the harassment that we still think is out of control and we are working to that end," Rose said.

Until the current problems are fixed, Rose said, there will always be the threat that someone is going to push to end the lucrative manatee swim experience.

"People who are interested in the economic issue here need to know that this will not go away until manatees are not being harassed on a consistent basis," he said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Federal officials say they will continue to allow people to swim with the manatees in Crystal River 08/29/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 30, 2009 7:08am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign

    Blogs

    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home

    Crime

    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence

    National

    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”