After a hearty breakfast, we depart for the dive boat. While snorkeling, we explore the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and the many springs that provide “winter homes” for the manatees. Manatees, like humans are susceptible to cold and hypothermia and cannot survive for extended periods when water temperatures fall below 68 degrees Fahrenheit; the water in the springs is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit providing a warm water escape from the cold gulf waters. (All participants snorkeling with manatees will be suited with a complete wetsuit). After our snorkeling trip we return to Marine Science station where naturalists share valuable information about the pollutants in this important spring system. For our next adventure, we board a boat, grab our snorkel gear and begin our drift snorkel along the Rainbow River. We explore the local flora and fauna, discuss river ecology, estuary ecology, bird watch and manatee watch as we float along reveling in this unique river experience. After we return, we drive to the local “Manatee Toy Company” dedicated to protecting the endangered West Indian Manatee for some manatee souvenir shopping. Our full day comes to a beautiful close as we visit a local beach to collect shells and watch the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, returning to the Marine Science station for dinner and a well-deserved rest.
The morning finds us traveling to Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park which offers a showcase of native Florida wildlife and endangered species. The park also serves as a rehabilitation center and refuge for endangered West Indian manatees that have been orphaned, injured in the wild and for manatees that have been born in captivity. The natural spring environment allows them an opportunity to re-acclimate themselves to a more natural environment before they are returned to the wild. Here we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch and then depart for home with a new appreciation for this gentle and endangered mammal.