It's also pretty confusing from a distance to understand what is actually required to swim with and photograph the manatees... There seemed to be a lot of rules, but exactly how they apply to underwater photographers was not clear . . . access to the manatees is changing . . . I will update my site when the ramifications of the proposed changes at the Crystal River go in to place.
There are some severe restrictions being proposed for Three Sisters (the best viewing and interaction area) for the upcoming season that will, IMHO, pretty much eliminate much of what we've enjoyed in the past. Three Sisters has certainly become overrun in the last few years to the point where manatees are getting crowded out. Visitor counts have gone from 60,000 in 2010 to almost 140,000 in 2014. There's opportunity for public comment but here's the gist of what's being proposed:
1. No more than 29 people (including guides) in Three Sisters at any given time.
2. All people must be escorted by FWS-certififed guide, max 4:1 ratio.
3. Only 5 companies will be issued guide permits, to be determined by application & lottery.
4. Access limited to 9AM - 4PM.
5. No kayaks.
6. Full closure of Pretty Sister and Little Sister lobes.
7. Full closure to people of the small slough (spring run) from the channel.
8. They will build inside the spring area, a floating dock and create a parking area for access.
9. No flash photography allowed.
10. No fins allowed.
11. Wetsuits required, must be predominantly black.
12. Photogs may not submerge to take a picture (so your lovley cover shot would have been illegal).
13. Commercial photogs (which includes people who post photos just on their own sites) need to get an SUP (Special Use Permit - $300), plus have a guide with them, to shoot.
14. No more than 2 photogs at a time, lottery system to be instituted during "open application season".
There's other stuff, but this ought to be enough to horrify you for now.
I will say that the the FWS people are really good about communicating with the stakeholders. Because I've taken groups there over the years, I'm on their contact list and have had frequent conversations with them about all of this. And while this all may seem pretty Draconian, they're really getting overwhelmed with visitors, far beyond what the Springs can handle, and the Manatees suffer for it. So it all comes from a good place and comes partly from an inability or unwillingness of the general public and the local operators to do any kind of self-policing or self-limiting.
Public comment is open until September 4. The full PDF document is available here: http://www.fws.gov/s...WR-07312015.pdf .
The above is from me. Don't know why it posted as "Guest." I'm singed in as me. Weird.