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Questions about Crystal River, Florida

Crystal River Florida Manatees

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#1 Bobu

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Posted 03 November 2014 - 11:59 AM

I will travel to Florida in January to shoot the Manatees at Crystal River and have some questions:

1. How cold is the water? I have a 2mm wetsuit and a 7mm wetsuit. Which would you recommend?

2. Is it allowed to wear fins there? I read contradictory statements about this.

3. Which tour operator would you recommend (my preference are very small groups and lots of time for photography)?

4. How many days would you spend at Crystal River (up to 5 days would be possible)?

5. Should I bring a flash or is ambient light sufficient (I will be shooting with a 15mm FE on a D800)?

6. Can you recommend a cheap hotel close to the Crystal River?

7. Do you have any additional hints or advice for me?

Thanks!

Boris
 



#2 joez2391

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Posted 03 November 2014 - 05:59 PM

Hi Boris,

 

I spent the weekend in Crystal River last March.  The weather in Florida can be pretty unpredictable, when we went the air was 38 degrees (water temp is usually around 72 degrees) and we were COLD after being in the water for 45 min snorkeling.  It depends what you are comfortable with, but I think a 5mm if you get cold easily and of not just rent a 3mm, I'm not sure but personally I think the 7mm would be overkill.   

 

Fins are definitely allowed. 

 

We went out with American Pro diving center to King's Spring, they were a great charter and I would highly recommend them!  It depends what kind of weather it is,

 

I brought my strobes to eliminate any harsh shadows.   

 

3 days was a good amount of time, if you stay a few days extra Rainbow River was a fun dive (it was my first freshwater one). 

 

One of the best suggestions I could give to get a chance for some great one on one manatee encounters (this leads to great photos of course).  There were a few people on other tours that were swimming next to us that you could tell were very "unexperienced" snorkelers to say the least. If you want great photos try to stay as far away from the pack as possible.  I had so many manatees come up to me and pose for the camera by just staying relaxed and waiting for them to approach me.  I know its been said a million times on here but all you get from chasing animals are awesome photos of a manatee's tail :rolleyes:.  I hope that was helpful, I'm going back this winter and can't wait! Any other questions just let me know. 

 

Joe



#3 Bobu

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Posted 04 November 2014 - 11:22 AM

Thanks Joe!

 

American Pro Diving Center is offering two different manatee tours: Crystal River and Homosassa Springs. Did you went on both? Which one is better for photography?

 

Any hotels you would recommend close to the Crystal River?

 

Boris


Edited by Bobu, 04 November 2014 - 11:22 AM.


#4 joez2391

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Posted 05 November 2014 - 02:53 PM

We ended up doing just the Crystal River one, most likely trying out Homosassa Springs when we go back this December.  Homosassa is only open for a few months and since we went in March American Pro was not doing trips out there at the time.  I heard Homosassa was really great for Photos not sure from experience though.  If you go on the Crystal River one they will either take you to King's Spring or Three Sisters Spring.  Kings Spring was pretty murky but the Three Sisters Spring was like swimming in crystal clear bottled water.  I would suggest looking into taking a Kayak to Three Sisters spring if you have time, you can bring your snorkel gear/camera with you and anchor off at Three Sisters to snorkel without having the time limit of a boat.    I'm hoping to get more photography time this year with the manatees going in December instead of so late in the season. 

 

The Holiday Inn Express was about a 5 min drive from American Pro (multiple Holiday Inns so double check its the closer one). 

 

I can let you know more about Homosassa in December. 

 

Joe



#5 diverdoug1

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Posted 05 November 2014 - 05:28 PM

Try the Brunswick stew at Fat Boys BBQ in Crystal River. The water temp is well below 72 when outside of the direct flow of the spring

#6 Bobu

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Posted 06 November 2014 - 11:09 AM

Thanks Joe and diverdoug!

 

Joe, when will you go in December (beginning or end?)?

 

Boris



#7 jmauricio

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 06:56 AM

I've been a few times and really like Birds Underwater and they have come highly recommended by others here too. 

 

Birds is great as they go out earlier than a lot of other tours, so you get one on one time with Manatees.. Definitely bring strobes & fins. Strobes bc when you first get in, its dark.

 

Water is a constant 72 degrees f due to the springs. Air temp can be in the low 30s-60s. widely variable. keep in mind you are not swiming much, mainly just floating, so you will feel the cold esp when you come up. I'm a native floridian so 5mm-7mm would be my choice. Some of the guides go in Dry suit, but that is overkill.

 

There are loads of hotels around. Do a google search but all the holiday inns, quality inns, etc are covered there. 

 

As said previously, the manatees will seek interaction if you mind your own business. they they like puppies. relax and they will come to you.

 

One other thing. its illegal to submerge while swimming with the manatees. so practice "shooting from the hip" if you want upward facing shots. 



#8 diverdoug1

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 11:54 AM

jmauricio, are you sure about the law forbiding submerging while swimming with manatees?  I have been taking my boat to Crystal River for many years and never heard it was "illegal to submerge while swimming with Manatees".  In fact, I and multitudes of other divers have done so in the presence of Florida Wildlife Commision officers, without an eyebrow raised.  I have looked for a referrence stating such a law, but could not find one.  If you could provide a r3eference, it would be greatly appreciated.

Manatees are protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which make it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal.

Manatees are also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. Anyone convicted of violating this state law faces a possible maximum fine of $500.00 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days. Conviction on the federal level is punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and/or one year in prison. Feeding manatees, giving them water, or otherwise altering their natural behavior can be considered harassment. Although Manatees tend to avoid the bubbles produced by scuba gear, I have never heard diving near them (on SCUBA or otherwise) classified as harassment.

Edited by diverdoug1, 10 November 2014 - 12:02 PM.


#9 Bobu

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Posted 12 November 2014 - 12:52 PM

Thanks jmauricio for the additional information!

 

I've contacted the American Pro Diving Center via email. Their answer was that I should call them. After my reply that I would prefer to book via email since English is not my native language and international calls to the US are rather expensive I havn't heard anything from them.

 

It's probabaly time to change to Birds Underwater.

 

Boris



#10 derekcs

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Posted 22 November 2014 - 03:58 PM

Are you allowed to use strobes when photographing them? From what I remember of my Crystal Springs trip, that was a no-no as well.



#11 Bobu

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Posted 05 December 2014 - 09:08 AM

I'm still trying to book a manatee tour.

 

I wrote emails to American Pro Diving Center, Birds Underwater and Manatee Central to book a manatee tour online.

NONE of them send me an answer. Very strange. Do the tour operators in Florida don't need any customers or is using email as a communication medium not that widespread in Florida?

 

Maybe I should just rent a kayak and try to explore the Crystal River by myself.

 

Boris



#12 megtooth

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Posted 05 December 2014 - 06:19 PM

We take students to Crystal River several times a year for their open water certification check-out dives.  My dive shop, Wateree Dive Center, is based in South Carolina.  We stay at the Crystal River Best Western hotel and can recommend them highly.  The hotel is on the river and within walking distance of several restaurants.  Continental breakfast is included.  Next to the hotel is Crystal Lodge Dive Center.  Great operation and they also conduct tours ($25 US if you have your own mask, fins and snorkel - $35 to use their equipment).  They also rent pontoon boats and smaller "Jon"boats by the hour.  They will give you a map and it is really easy to find the manatee sites yourself.  Here are  links to the hotel and dive center:

 

http://www.crystalriverresort.com

 

http://www.manatee-c....com/index.html

 

They will also show you a video and give you the rules/law on manatee interaction. There will generally be volunteers and officials on site to make sure everyone follows the rules.  I would spend at least 2 days with the manatees and take in some of the local diving.  As stated above, Rainbow River is about 20 miles (35 kilometers) from Crystal River and features great drift diving.  You will rent a pontoon boat to take you a mile or so up river and then you drift down.  You will see large Gar fish and depths are about 25 feet.  There is no dive shop there so rent your tanks in Crystal River.  Check the times they are open as they are a state park.  There are some nearby good cavern sites such as Blue Grotto ( where you can go over a hundred feet in depth) and Devil's Den - a unique dome.  Do  a search and check out both locations.  They have good on-site dive shops at these sites.  

 

All in all. you can get in 5 days of great local diving and Manatee snorkeling.  If you have any other questions - I'm sure the group here can help!



#13 Bobu

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Posted 06 December 2014 - 01:04 AM

Thanks a lot megtooth. The Crystal Lodge Dive Center is what I called Manatee Central (the name of their website). I sent them an email 7 days ago. No answer so far. Maybe I should just travel to Crystal River without booking anything in advance.

It's a bit crazy that it's much easier to organize a diving/snorkeling trip to Iceland or to Palau than to the US.

 

Boris



#14 megtooth

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Posted 06 December 2014 - 07:15 AM

That does not sound like them.  If you would message me your e-mail, I can give them a phone call and try to hook you up.  Otherwise, I think you would be ok just showing up.


Edited by megtooth, 06 December 2014 - 07:15 AM.


#15 Bobu

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Posted 06 December 2014 - 07:45 AM

That does not sound like them.  If you would message me your e-mail, I can give them a phone call and try to hook you up.  Otherwise, I think you would be ok just showing up.

 

Thanks megtooth for your help. I did send you a PM with the details of my email.

 

Boris



#16 glee719

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Posted 07 December 2014 - 08:29 AM

I totally liked Homosassa river w/ American Pro. There was nobody there when we went on the first tour. You know, the more people you have the more silt they kick up. The water is warm, you can deal with it with a 3mm. Our problem was when you come out all wet and the air temperature was 30!!! Bring a lot of surface clothes.


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Edited by glee719, 07 December 2014 - 08:29 AM.


#17 Bobu

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Posted 07 December 2014 - 11:56 AM

Thanks glee719! I will try to get to Homosassa River.

 

Boris



#18 rwe

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Posted 05 January 2015 - 01:57 PM

I was at Crystal River in early May about 2 years ago.  Most of the manatees had headed out to sea but a few were still around.  A few comments:

  • I can't remember the operator I went out with but as soon as my flash fired the first time, they started yelling at me that flashes were not allowed.
  • Diving below the surface is definitely not allowed.  I believe this is now a federal or state law.
  • Do not wear gloves.  Some manatees do like to be petted or rubbed.  This is because they like to feel the warmth of your hands.  If you wear gloves, they are likely to move on rather than beg for more contact.
  • I lived in Tallahassee back in the '70s and went to this area on multiple occasions and had great interfaces with the manatees.  The trip a few years ago was really disappointing for me. The river which was crystal clear back then now has a foot or so vis because of the algae growth from fertilizers going into the river.  The springs are still clear but most of the river was a cesspool.  A real shame that such a beautiful river has been allowed to be treated this way.

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#19 katy-kid

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Posted 08 January 2015 - 08:49 AM

Hi there, I know Bird's site was hacked a little while ago, maybe that's why they're not responding? There are also incredibly slammed this time of year, so I'm sure someone will get back with you as soon as they can; they've been my go-to operator for years and know what they're doing. I haven't been to Three Sisters yet, but did do Homosassa; it was not very crowded, but somewhat murky with a little less manatee action, (I'll take the murkiness over a crowd anyday, esp. with the yahoos that scare the manatees off). We did go around May so mayhaps that was why. I have no clue what the regulations are as I didn't have a camera at the time, but definitely don't chase them, the experience of letting them come to you, (as is in most cases), is so much more fufilling. Go EARLY, and wear a 5mm, you'll be so much more comfortable. If you go on a cloudy day, I bet it won't be as crowded. Rainbow River is def. worth going to, just let it be known that it's a current dive and there are other boats traveling this waterway so just keep an eye out.


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#20 Bobu

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Posted 08 January 2015 - 12:11 PM

Thanks everybody for all your helpful advice!

 

I just returned from my trip to Crystal River and unfortunately I'm a bit disappointed.

 

As written above any booking via email in advance was just not possible. I never got any answers from any of the tour operators despite some addtional telephone calls to them from some very friendly and helpful fellow wetpixel member.

 

Nevertheless I managed to book some tours directly in Crystal River at American Pro Divers.

This is what we booked:

1st day: Homosassa Springs tour at 6:30 am + Rainbow River tour at 1:00 pm

2nd day: renting a kayak and visiting Three Sisters Springs (not via American Pro Divers)

3rd day: Homosassa Springs tour at 6:30 am + Rainbow River tour at 1:00 pm

4th day: Crystal River tour at 8:30 am

5th day: Crystal River tour at 8:30 am

 

We had some bad luck with the weather. The weeks before we arrived it was very cold and hundreds of manatees were at the springs but when we arrived it was getting warmer and most of the manatees left the area for feeding. At Homosassa Springs we saw only 2 manatees, at Three Sisters Springs 3 and at Kings Spring (Crystal River tour) 2. But that can happen with nature and was not our biggest problem.

 

My main problem was that the groups were much too big for any kind of serious underwater photography. The boats had 16 seats and were always fully loaded with 16 people. Can you imagine what happens if 16 people try to chase and touch one manatee at the same time? In addition the water was very shallow and the ground was muddy. What happens when 16 tourists, inexperienced in swimming with fins, try to chase a manatee in shallow water with muddy ground? Right: visibility gets down to zero. Sometimes I was not even able to see my own hand in front of me.

Furthermore we were not the only boat there, not even at the 6:30 am tour at Homosassa Springs. At Three Sisters there were about 20 boats and about 200 people in the water. I was really trying hard but in these conditions it was just not possible to get any good images. We even canceled the Crystal River trip on our last day because it was just too frustrating.

 

I'm not really blaming American Pro Divers for this, the guides were friendly, competent and tried really hard to get the best out of this situation for everyone on the boat and all other tour operators had similar much too big group sizes.

 

If I would repeat this trip (which I won't do) I would not book any group tours at all, just rent a boat and get to the springs before sunrise and hope to get some shots before the first tour boats arrive. If you study some maps and talk to some experienced local people the manatees are easy to find by yourself. You therefore need no guide. And you should clearly avoid any visit around Christmas time

 

Maybe my above experience will help other people to get a more satisfying trip to the manatees.

 

Some more advice from my side:

- if you book a group tour all tour guides stricly forbid any kind of flash photography (fins were never a problem), as written on wetpixel there will soon be a new law which further restricts the use of flash even outside of group tours

- if you spend several hours in the water take the warmest wetsuit you have, I brought my 8mm one with an aditional 7mm hood and was happy to have it, my daughter was freezing in her 7mm suit (with 7mm hood)

- the Holiday Inn in Crystal River is ok and can be recommended

- getting good food in Crystal River is not easy, especially if you are a vegetarian like my daughter (you can choose between literally hundreds of burger shops, but that's it)

- Rainbow River is fun, not the greatest place on earth for underwater photography, but we really enjoyed it


Edited by Bobu, 08 January 2015 - 12:15 PM.