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.