The Kings Bay ecosystem is diverse and extraordinary. From the smallest of micro-organisms to the world-famous manatee, the ecosystem is ever-changing and dependent on each other—and on the activities of humans.
Kings Bay provides food, water, cover, nesting and nursery areas to thousands of migratory and resident wildlife species. Since the 1960s, our waterways have changed vastly through development, erosion and other natural and manmade activities. Water circulation has been affected by these changes, which accelerates the growth of invasive algae that negatively affects water quality. As the algae expands and increases, it reduces dissolved oxygen. Aquatic life and native plants die.
Here’s how the lack of oxygen in the water affects those of us who live on land. When they are deprived of oxygen, tiny microscopic animals in the grass become less abundant. Because of that, populations of small fish, turtles, shrimp, crab and other critters that feed on the microscopic animals begin to diminish. Birds and larger animals that eat these smaller fish and crabs begin to migrate to other habitats where they can feed and raise their young. The entire ecosystem is altered and out of balance.
Probably the best-known creature in Kings Bay is the manatee. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only place created specifically for the protection of the endangered Florida manatee. During peak periods, the population exceeds 1,000 animals that depend on the 72-degree spring discharge to keep warm during cold weather.
Manatees feed on aquatic vegetation, so when native vegetation is threatened by harmful algae, it reduces the food sources available to them. When manatees are no longer able to find a reliable food source in warm waters, they move into colder Gulf waters to feed, increasing their chances of developing cold stress and possible death and threatening the ecotourism that depends on manatees and adds economic viability to the Citrus County region.
The Kings Bay fishing industry holds tremendous commercial, cultural, and historic value. Restoring and sustaining the region’s fish stocks are as much about improving water quality and fish habitat as they are about fishery management. It’s up to all of us to continue to battle the unhealthy algae that reduces fish populations and recreational opportunities so many in our area enjoy and depend on for economic viability.
The Duke Energy Crystal River Mariculture Center complex is a multi-species marine hatchery that focuses on 12 species, including recreationally and commercially important fish, forage fish such as pinfish and pigfish, unique non-game species such as batfish, and certain crustaceans such as stone crab and blue crab. But the Mariculture Center’s repopulation efforts are only a part of fighting the ever-present issue. The facility is also growing the “Rock Star” eelgrass and has partnered with SCR to distribute the grasses to the public with instructions on how to plant it in their own backyards.
Despite the impact of lyngbya, Kings Bay provides locals and tourists with some of the most fertile grass beds for recreational scallop harvesting. Once abundant throughout Florida, bay scallops of healthy populations that can support a recreational harvest can only be found in few locations along the Gulf coast, including Crystal River. Preserving the health of Crystal River will help sustain this important industry in our region.
Kings Bay area is also blessed with a stone crab fishery. The stone crab population today reflects a high proportion of hybrids between the Florida and Gulf species. They feed on oysters and other small mollusks, polychaete worms, and other crustaceans. They occasionally eat seagrass and carrion, and depend on the health of aquatic vegetation for their continued viability. The State of Florida has a seven-month stone crab harvesting season from October 15 to May 15 that brings thousands of tourists to Citrus County every year. Crystal River comes together to celebrate stone crab season every November at the Stone Crab Jam .
Kings Bay and Crystal River’s aquatic life need clean water and a healthy habitat. Kings Bay provides breeding grounds and food for thousands of species of aquatic life—plant and animal. Those plants and animals, in turn, provide food for non-aquatic species. And, more than food, a healthy ecosystem provides recreation and economic opportunity for residents and visitors.
The protection and restoration of seagrass and other aquatic vegetation ensures that diverse wildlife will continue to make Crystal River their home.
Volunteer today to help ensure the health of our aquatic life and other wildlife that call Kings Bay and Crystal River home. Their health depends on us!