The Crystal River and Kings Bay are at the heart at our thriving tourism industry. Together they infused over $200 million into the local economy in 2015. Commercial fisherman and recreational charters depend on the waterways for fishing, scalloping, and crabbing. Hotels, attractions and tour operators depend on tourists visiting the area to swim, dive, snorkel, kayak, paddle board, hike, take photographs, and see manatees.
The Crystal River/Kings Bay system is the largest winter gathering spot for manatees on the Florida Gulf Coast and is a National Wildlife Refuge. More than 150,000 people annually visit Crystal River to view manatees, resulting in a local economic impact from $20 to $30 million.
Along with recreation and tourism, Crystal River and Citrus County attracts new residents hoping to bring their families to homes on the beautiful shoreline, develop productive careers, and live in the peacefulness and tranquility in the relatively modestly priced housing compared to other scenic Florida areas.
In the 1960s, extensive dredge-and-fill activities altered much of Kings Bay and portions of the Crystal River shorelines making room for the people seeking a better quality of life and warmer climate. From 1970 to 2000, the population of Citrus County grew from 19,196 to 118,085.
Today, nearly 40 percent of the Crystal River/Kings Bay watershed/springshed is urbanized. That’s a lot of developed land sending pesticides and fertilizers, oil, animal waste and other nutrients downstream to the coast—to Kings Bay and Crystal River. If we are going to save our waterways, we will all have to be more aware of sustaining and protecting our ecosystem.
Want to guess how the population explosion has affected livestock numbers, or acres of forests and fields cleared for pavement, concrete, and rooftops, or cars on the roads? A huge increase in population means more resources directed to support them. The result has had a direct and measurable impact to coastal resources.
Urbanization of natural areas—construction of seawalls, roads and other man-made activities—causes a change in water circulation. When water circulation changes, it offers the perfect environment for unhealthy algae called lyngbya to thrive.
Lyngbya causes reduced water clarity and extreme fluctuations in dissolved oxygen that stress every part of the ecosystem. When Lyngbya blankets the native grasses, they die and decay beneath many feet of decomposing dead matter .The tiny essential, life-sustaining micro-organisms that feed on native vegetation are severely reduced, and so are the fish, turtles, scallops and other wildlife that feed on them. The birds and larger animals that feed on smaller animals must find new, more plentiful habitat. Without a healthy habitat and native wildlife, tourism and the local quality of life also is reduced. And so does the tourism that relies on that wildlife.
To restore habitat affected by algae, protect wildlife and sustain economic vitality, the Florida Legislature approved $1.6 million for the Kings Bay Pilot Restoration Project in June 2015. The project is removing Lyngbya—a harmful and invasive blue-green algae—then planting and monitoring native grasses along 3.4 acres of canals that feed Kings Bay. In 2016, after the success of the pilot project, the state showed their confidence in SCR and allocated $3.4 million to continue the work.
Following the pilot project completion, four subsequent phases will clean and restore all of the Kings Bay canals. These phases will cost approximately $40 million. The goal is to complete the entire project by July 2, 2023, when the city of Crystal River will celebrate its centennial. (suggest – Agree on adding phase map?)
Join this community effort. If you live on the coast, if you live on a canal, you can do your part to clean up the water at your own seawall your own dock.
Crystal River supports livelihoods and provides water filtration, food, climate regulation, recreation, and aesthetic value. Investing in clean water creates jobs, generates economic activity, and saves money in the long run.
We need your help to make a difference. Please consider donating or joining us. Restoring clean water is not just for today. It’s for tomorrow and for generations to come.