Crystal River

By Alan C Egan

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Are you visiting the DEMA 2015 in Orlando?

You are 90 miles away from swimming with live mermaids!

Mermaids are associated with the mythological Greek sirens as well as with sirenia, a biological order comprising dugongs and manatees. Some of the historical sightings by sailors may have been misunderstood encounters with these aquatic mammals. Cristopher Colombus reported seeing mermaids while exploring the Caribbean.

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Crystal River is one of the only rivers in Florida where you can legally interact with manatees in the water. The best time to see the Manatees is from November through April and the numbers can be very large when the temperature dips as cold fronts arrive. Three Sisters is the most popular spring for tourists and can be quite crowded at times forcing closure by the FWC when the number of Manatees gets too high.

The West Indian Manatee averages between 400 and 800 pounds and can be seen in very large numbers seeking the warm 72F water of the Crystal River. The warm springs that feed the river provide about 64 million gallons of water per day.

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All photography I have done was with ambient light and the law on using strobes changes, though currently it is not allowed. It is not necessary to use strobes to get good results, just look at what light you have and use it. Special professional photographer permits are required by professionals publishing images and are $100. All interactions with the manatee are done whilst snorkeling so no dive certification is necessary. Use the widest lens you own as these curios creatures will approach you and a close focusing lens is a must. I use the Sigma 15mm fish eye on a full Frame Nikon D810 with a Zen 230mm dome and I am convinced the manatees can see themselves in the dome and swim right up to it.

Water can be gin clear to chocolate milk and can change daily so plan at least two days, and if you get the bad visibility just get closer and do some face shots, I always find they are more inquisitive when the water is not so clear.

They enjoy the interaction and love a belly rub but do not swim after them or approach them or the park rangers will give you a citation so just relax and float and if they want they will check you out. Wear a minimum 5mm wetsuit with hooded vest as the 72F water is toasty but the air temperature can be in the low 30s. I personally wear a 7mm and skip the hood, the dive shops rent 5mm suits which is convenient for traveling light. Most of the boats have hot drinks on board and allow approximately two hours in the water with the manatees so feel free to go back to the boat and warm up.

Living in Florida I always make at least two trips a year and the experience never gets old. I normally stay at Plantation Hotel on Crystal River as they have boats and a full dive shop on the premises which I find super convenient as often it is a very early start and being able to walk from your room to the boat and even grabbing breakfast at the hotel is perfect. The hotel has a really good restaurant and is competitively priced.

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Ocean Geographic Explorer (OGX) is a diving adventure resource with a special focus on marine photography and ocean conservation. Our content is divided up into six primary categories: Travel, Sea Science,  Equipment, Photography &Video, Conservation, and Lifestyle. We endeavor be a portal for people with all levels of interest in the marine environment  to learn about and become part of a community of like-minded ocean lovers who enjoy sharing their knowledge of and experiences in our fascinating ocean world.

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