The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is one of the smallest but most popular marine wildlife reserves on the Eastern Seaboard. This tiny waterway, barely seven miles long, is one of the largest Manatee refuges in the United States and one of the most important in the world. Visitors from all over the world come here to view, and occasionally swim with, the magnificent creatures.
The area around Crystal River has been inhabited since pre-Columbian times. Although settled by westerners in the Colonial era, the region was not widely exploited until the 20th century. In the 1960s it became home to the Crystal River Energy Complex which now houses numerous coal and nuclear power plants. Although too late to stop the construction of these plants, the establishment of the national wildlife refuge here prevented further encroachments or damage to the important local ecosystem.
The Crystal River, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico, is warmed by three hundred million gallons of natural spring water from the Three Sisters Springs. This makes the small waterway ideal for the habitation and mating of manatees. Depending on the season, as many as four hundred manatees can be residing in the area at one time.
The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is located on the west-central coast of Florida, approximately forty miles north of Tampa. Adventurous visitors can swim with Manatees in certain areas. The refuge is open year-round and is an open site. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.fws.gov/crystalriver (official website).