This set of images shows elements of the balance between the ecotourism in Kings Bay and the welfare of the manatees themselves.
For years a heavy debate has been going on between different parties on how to walk the thin line between responsible ecotourism and making sure to not disturb the lives of the manatees.
Some animal rights activists strongly oppose the way the ecotourism is run, but the local tourism branch wants to protect their business while making sure the manatees are a sustainable source of income.
In the midst between the parties the management of the National Wildlife Refuge tries to manage the refuge by setting and enforcing the rules for recreating in the refuge and interacting with the animals.
Very recently the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service (department which manages the area) implemented new rules to protect the manatees, especially in the cold winter months when they reside in the warm water of the springs in the refuge.
Exclusion zones should keep humans from harrassing the manatees in certain places where they use to frequent. This is just one of the rules on interaction with the mammals which also has restricted me as a photographer while working with the manatees.
Also, the department is enforcing the right to close off the Three Sisters Springs when too many manatees decide to reside in the springs. It is something that does happen more often during the peak of the manatee season.
Not everybody agrees with the new rules and the way the measures are implemented. The many opinions, perspectives and the pro's and cons make the story of the manatees an interesting one. One thing is for sure: all of these measures were implemented to benefit the manatees, while putting more restrictions on the interaction with people.
Please also find this blogpost on our personal experiences with the manatees of Crystal River.
Many images of this portfolio were published in my article for Duiken magazine: "The manatees of Crystal River".