The Guardian Guides Manatee Stewardship Program- Pilot Project
Developed by: META Board of Directors & SMC
Operators who commit in writing & adhere to Kings Bay-Wide standards, in addition to obeying all local, state, & federal rules & policies, will receive Guardian Guides designation beginning in Program Year 2. Performance will be reviewed & membership will require annual renewal.
Download Application (may be filled out electronically using Adobe Acrobat)
Download Reporting Form (may be filled out electronically using Adobe Acrobat)
Program Goal: Provide sustainable, world-class ecotourism opportunities for in- & on-water visitors to Crystal River in order to promote stewardship of manatees, their aquatic ecosystem, & the surrounding springshed.
Principle #1: Vary times & locations of tours to allow manatees the ability to rest undisturbed
Purpose: Allow manatees enhanced undisturbed time at select springs. In the winter, this may include mornings when temperatures are lower and late afternoon when temperatures once again begin to drop.
Principle #2: Look, No Hands!
Purpose: Responsible ecotourism requires nature to remain in control of all experiences.
- Guides will require all swimmers to wear a wetsuit & utilize a flotation device such as a swim noodle or PFD.
- Freeze as soon as a manatee is visible. Manatees may choose to approach & make contact with swimmers. Swimmers should remain still in the water & observe manatees passively, not reach out to touch them.
- Swimmers will try to maintain 1 human body length away from manatees when visibility & conditions allow.
Principle #3: Guides Get Wet
Purpose: In-water guides have better control of guest conduct, thereby lessening the potential for manatee disturbance.
- Guides must accompany their guests in-water during all segments of the tour while captains remain on -vessel.
- Follow snorkeling guidelines of no more than 12 guests: 1 guide at all times. The experience level of guides & abilities of patrons, as well as environmental conditions, may necessitate smaller group size.
Principle #4: Don’t “Dump In” On Other Groups
Purpose: Prevent over-crowding & help create a high quality experience for visitors while avoiding manatee disturbance.
- If one tour group of at least 6 guests is already in/on-water observing manatees, wait for that group to move out before entering the area. Be mindful of any waiting groups, limiting visits to 15 minutes.
Principle #5: Create Stewardship Among Guests & Shops
Purpose: Stewardship of natural resources is a key component of ecotourism. Ideally, there is a symbiosis among the environment, tour operators, & tourists, whereby each benefits from the others.
- Provide whole-ecosystem education. Ensure website & messaging upholds Guardian Guides standards.
- Share laminated map of the Bay with guests, with standards printed on side 2. Review on vessel.
- Complete 25 hours/boat/shop of annual service to the Kings Bay springshed. Examples include participation in manatee rescues & health assessments, coastal cleanups, continuing education, eelgrass planting, One Rake Lyngbya removal, or nature education events including Refuge Day.
- Reserve $1 from every guest for aquatic habitat protection & restoration within the springshed.
- Solicit feedback on tours and guides from guests (i.e. via postcard, online survey). Include information on ways to help manatees & the aquatic ecosystem even after they leave Crystal River.
- Observe an SMC-facilitated demonstration in Kings Bay of new prop guard/thruster technology to view benefits.