|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 26, 1997
|Diana M. Hawkins or
Vicki M. Boatwright
MANATEE SANCTUARY PROPOSED FOR THREE SISTERS SPRING
In response to reports from concerned citizens, researchers and wildlife managers about
harassment of endangered manatees at Three Sisters Spring at Kings Bay in Crystal River,
Florida, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to establish a sanctuary for the
species. Sanctuaries, established under provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the
Marine Mammal Protection Act, are areas where waterborne activity is restricted to protect
the manatees that congregate at the site during the winter, and where people are
prohibited from entering.
The proposed sanctuary would be located at the point where Three Sisters Spring flows
into a nearby residential canal and would extend north of the canal and west of the spring
run. Currently, there are six manatee sanctuaries in the Crystal River's headwaters at
Kings Bay that protect approximately 39 acres of essential manatee habitat. The
sanctuaries were created to provide manatees areas where they could retreat from people
during their winter-long stay in the area. The new sanctuary will cover less than
one-fourth of an acre. Kings Bay is the most important winter refuge for manatees on
Florida's west coast. More than 250 manatees are known to winter here.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service believes a sanctuary is the only solution for
protecting manatees in Three Sisters Spring given the level of harassment that has been
observed and reported," said the Service's Southeast Regional Director Sam D.
Hamilton. "While we understand the public's enthusiasm for seeing and enjoying these
magnificent creatures, interaction with manatees that causes them to leave warm-water
areas can create serious problems for these cold-intolerant animals," he said.
"It is the Service's responsibility by law to see that manatees are protected from
Hamilton emphasized that education of the public, including boaters, divers, swimmers
and snorklers, to the needs of the species is equally as important a key as sanctuaries to
conserving manatees. He credited dive shop owners and marina operators in Crystal River
for their efforts to inform their customers about the crucial importance of such things as
observing boat speed limits in manatee zones, not feeding manatees, and avoiding
interaction that disrupts the species' normal patterns of activity. Local dive shop
operators provide their customers with videos and handouts that describe
"manatee-friendly" ways to interact with manatees.
Robert Turner, the Service's manatee recovery coordinator, says that manatees use the
upper Crystal River area as a refuge to escape the cold. "On especially cold days,
manatees seek out and remain at warm-water sites until the weather warms up," he
said. "When this happens, the animals leave in search of food. People wanting to
interact with manatees can and do disturb them during these critical times."
Manatees leave these sites when people approach them, encircle them, touch them, and
otherwise harass them to the point that they become uncomfortable. A Service-sponsored
study conducted last winter confirmed this type of problem at Three Sisters Spring. If
manatees are harassed to the point where they cannot find adequate warmth and food, they
may die from exposure to the cold, Turner explained.
The new sanctuary has temporarily been established by the Service for 120 days through
an emergency rule authorized under the Endangered Species Act and published in the FederalRegister
today. In the Federal Register notice, the Service is also proposing to make
the sanctuary permanent. The public is provided with a 60-day period to comment on this
proposed, long-term solution. Comments should be sent to:
Robert O. Turner
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Jacksonville Field Office
6620 Southpoint Drive, South Suite 310
Jacksonville, Florida 32216
"The upcoming winter season and the increasing use of this part of the spring by
manatees calls for immediate action," said Turner. "We have had documented
evidence of the harassment problem since 1993. We had hoped to see this spring protected
through local government action, but we've recently been notified that local efforts have
stalled, despite strong support from the local dive shop owners. We are still open to
local designation of a sanctuary as we seek a permanent solution to this problem. In the
meantime, it is the Service's obligation to move forward with this sanctuary and to
propose that it become permanent," Turner said.
Efforts to protect manatees from harassment at Three Sisters Springs are also supported
by local citizens, the Florida Depart-ment of Environmental Protection, the Marine Mammal
Commission, Save the Manatee Club and others who have an interest in the well-being of
this endangered species.
More information on the establishment of the sanctuary is available by contacting Robert O. Turner or William B. Brooks at (904) 232-2580 extensions 117 and 111, respectively, or the Service's Regional External Affairs Office at (404) 679-7289.
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Release #: R97-104
1997 News Releases