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Signs to remind Kings Bay boaters to look out for manatees

CRYSTAL RIVER — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will install 13 informational kiosks at boat ramps at Kings Bay this week to tell visitors all about manatees and how to avoid harming them.

The three-panel kiosks will give general information about the manatee population in Kings Bay, which is internationally known as a manatee-viewing area.

The kiosks will also list activities that are forbidden, and display maps showing sanctuaries that are off-limits to visitors and reduced-speed zones for boats.

The signs are a result of the March 2012 designation of the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge overseen by the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The designation established Kings Bay as a protected area that allows managers to gauge conditions and restrict activities that could harm manatees.

For example, this past manatee season, visitors were restricted in some parts of the bay for an extra week because a cold snap kept the animals huddled near the warm springs longer than usual.

Also last season, the refuge rules allowed the expansion of the sanctuary in front of the popular Three Sisters Springs, a confined area where manatees pile up during cold mornings.

The refuge rules also prohibit chasing, riding, poking or pinching manatees, separating mother manatees from their calves, and disturbing them while they eat.

The kiosks will be placed at both public and private boat launches, the main entry points around the bay. A 14th will be placed on a floating display in the middle of the bay. The panels are meant to explain the new rules to prevent manatee harassment and the critical role Kings Bay plays in the overall health of the Central Florida manatee population.

"It's just another great tool for gaining awareness,'' said Ivan Vicente, visitor services specialist for the refuge.