All the way back in January 2014.
Our family moved from Virginia and took over Crystal River Watersports. We quickly tried to settle in and figure out what we were doing, how tours really operated, and how to give our guests the best experience. Winter was great. Then came Spring and the manatee all left to head to saltwater to eat. Tours were less than optimal! Some manatee came back after a few weeks but those couple dozen were scattered throughout King’s Bay.
The only consistent vegetation was in the “outback” near Warden’s Key. Tours were rough. We’d watch the clock and see the minute hand spin way past the desired time for a boat to return and would get a pit in our stomach knowing that the Captain was having trouble finding a manatee or at least one not moving that he could get the guests in the water. Some guests would be fearful that the water was “murky” or “dingy.” Sometimes the captain would return saying, “I think I saw a nose.”
Summer tours were even rougher. A few more private and rental boats and only a few manatees. Days sometimes had tour boats circling the bay watching each other to see if any anchored and put up a dive flag. Before long we were getting settled in Citrus County and heard about the efforts of One Rake at a Time and Save Crystal River.
The Beginning of Cleanup.
Being a natural-born skeptic, I assumed the One Rake Effort was more of a way to publicize the issues associated with Lyngbya and develop community involvement and ownership. Similarly, we heard about the Save Crystal River efforts. We joined with other tour companies and the Manatee Eco-Tourism Association to help promote the cleanups.
As SCR started their education program, we assisted with cleaning up around Hunter Spring Park in advance of the students planting their eelgrass. We also got eelgrass sprouts from Duke Energy and had a META planting day. They were all worthwhile efforts, but we really weren’t seeing much difference. The message and awareness were sound, but the results were slim. Did the manatee just eat the eelgrass sprouts that were planted?
Seeing a Change.
Fast forward a couple of years and eelgrass patches started to grow back in the SPRING. Great! Cool. Now a few manatees were hanging out in the residential canals near the Post Office. The manatee hung around and the tour boats followed, yes us too. This was to the dismay of the residents. The good news was they had cleaner canals, eelgrass, and manatee.
Then, the next summer started the same. Much easier and better tours for the guests but everyone was concentrated in a small area. However, the manatee never ate it all down. We then started seeing the eelgrass in the canal leading to the Hunter Spring basin. Wow, it wasn’t even planted there! It was being spread by the manatee as well as it going to seed. As the summer went on the grass got thicker and taller.
This amazing spread has continued out to Pete’s Pier, towards the Crystal River Bay Walk, and even on the bayside of Pete’s Pier. We now have 60plus manatee hanging around for the summer. Long gone are the days spent driving around the Bay to find a manatee. Now we are looking for ones in clear water WITHOUT other boats near them. We can’t remember the last time that a tour struck out finding manatees to swim with. We’ve become spoiled. The Captains and Guides say “we only saw 3 or 4.” Or the “water wasn’t that clear.”
We are seeing multiple species of fish, blue crabs, turtles, and more. The efforts of Save Crystal River are changing the dynamic of our tours for the better!