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Explorer, educator, geographer, cruise lecturer, travel writer and dedicated conservationist - all of these titles describe Professor Bel's ability to share her great passion for travel and wildlife with others

Monday, November 21, 2011

Swimming with Homosassa’s Gentle Giants

They may not have the strength and grace of killer whales, or the agility and looks of dolphins, but manatees are stealing the show at Homosassa Springs.

Cruisers who want to enjoy nature at its best pre or post cruise, a nature wonderland hidden behind Orlando’s theme parks, there is another Florida, a nature-lover's Florida. This fascinating little known corner of the U.S. is Mother Nature's theme park featuring pristine rivers, trees dripping with Spanish moss, lush woods and more wildlife than people.

Our latest trip took us to the manatees’ home turf, far away from the modern-day animal refugee camps we have constructed and now call aquariums.  We aimed our compass south to Florida's west central coast line and the Gulf of Mexico, and it is here that we met one of the most formidable aquatic mammals.

From November to March, it is here that groups of manatees congregate. They have chosen to escape the cold winter ocean and bask in the warm waters near power plants and coastal clear water springs that stay about 72F degrees year-round. Snorkelers, divers and swimmers come from all over the world for a chance to swim or interact with the shy, gentle, docile West Indian manatee in its natural environment. Numerous dive sites, inland springs, good underwater visibility, calm water and its wintering manatee population have made Citrus County a popular destination for nature lovers like us.
Abundant plant life makes the area a perfect playground for the manatees, who arrive every year by the hundreds to find warmth, food and shelter, and maybe, just maybe, to visit us, the curious humans. The area is also safe for these endangered mammals whose lives are often cut short by environmental factors and fatal encounters with speeding watercraft.

Essential Information: November through March is when manatees are in residence in this region. Sanctuaries are in effect from November 15 - March 31.  Crystal River is the only place in the world for snorkelers to swim with the West Indian manatee in relatively clear water.  · Getting There: Citrus County and Crystal River is less than 1.5hr  drive from Orlando, Tampa or Daytona. The closest cities would be Crystal River, Inverness and Homosassa, FL.  Citrus County Visitors & Convention Bureau www.visitcitrus.com 9225 West Fishbowl Drive Homosassa, Florida 34448 P: 800-587-6667 P: 352-628-9305 F: 352-628-0703 E: info@visitcitrus.com  · Staying there:  We stayed at   The Plantation Inn Golf Resort & Spa www.plantationinn.com · Manatee Encounter Tours:  Captain Traci Wood with Native Vacations www.nativevacations.com 2880 N. Seabreeze Pt. Crystal River, Fl 37729. P: 352-302-5052 E: info@nativevacations.com expedition starts at the Twin Rivers Marina.  She knows the subject of manatees intimately.

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