Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge headquarters sign
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge headquarters sign
Manatee at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is an 80-acre refuge established in 1983 specifically to protect the West Indian manatee. The property is within the city limits of Crystal River on undeveloped and unspoiled habitat in Kings Bay. This area is filled with the warm springs that form the headwaters of the Crystal River. Because of these warm springs, the manatees migrate here every winter, making this habitat critical for their survival. In the photos below, the areas shown are in the refuge, and are areas where boaters and snorkelers are forbidden to enter. Within the 80 acres are 20 small islands and several small parcels of land mass, separated by the clear, warm (72°F) waters that flow from the springs.

In summer, the manatee population drops way off but cold winters will bring more than 500 manatees at a time into the springs. Problem is, there not nearly enough food in the immediate area to support that many manatees so they have to commute for lunch. If they are gone too long and the water is too cold, they die of hypothermia.

In July, 2010, a deal was closed to add about 59 acres around the Three Sisters Springs to Crystal River NWR. This is another extremely important area where manatees like to congregate in the winter. The property is owned (fee simple) by the City of Crystal River and the Southwest Florida Water Management District but the US Fish & Wildlife Service now has a long-term management lease on it.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is administered as part of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex.