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How I found again manatees after 27 years 🥹

Updated: Apr 10

Twenty-seven years ago I swam with manatees. This year I discovered them again. I decided to write about this on my flower site so you can learn a little but about what I like to do in the off-season.

Swimming with manatees

Mom called us from work. She had discovered manatees in a little cove in eastern Florida.

The muddy water was bordered on one side by a old playground with metal swing set on a concrete pad, and on another side by a parking lot.

It certainly was not a sanctuary. The surface of the water was littered with misguided offerings of romaine lettuce and kitchen scraps. Boats sped by just outside the cove at such high speeds they seemed to rattle the 'No wake! Manatee area' sign.

But these gentlest of creatures, were still there, tiptoeing just below the surface.

As I mentioned the water was muddy, not cloudy, not silty - it had the color and clarity of chocolate milk.

The mask I insisted my dad stop to let me buy was useless. I left the mask ashore and summoned up a bit of courage to slip into water without knowing what exactly was swimming there.

In the end, nothing mattered but the manatees. They were thoroughly captivating, and the afternoon became a treasured core memory.

Core memory

After our experience we all switched to "Save The Manatee" license plates of course, and proceeded to worry about them - no matter how far away we moved.

During difficult times my mind would go back to the little cove, the manatees and the unique peace they bring. The memory calmed me..

I suppose I've been searching for them ever since.


I've seen manatees from time-to-time over the years, once off the beach on Sanibel, or among the mangroves while kayaking. Then last year, I discovered it is legal to swim with manatees in the Crystal River.

In the 90's, Seven Sisters Spring was a private property - owned by someone who planned to install a bottling plant on top of it.

Now it's a thriving Manatee Mecca with opportunities to swim with the beloved creatures I spent years dreaming about.

It's a beautiful experience.

Two manatees relax and warm up in a Florida spring

What's it like to Swim with Manatees in Crystal River Florida?

A dip anywhere in the Crystal River inspires a true Ponce De León moment. The water is divine.

Now I am pretty poetic and dramatic, because the natural world demands poetry and drama. Along with the poetry - I am always honest when it comes to describing experience and destinations. So here's the deal: it's rarely the crystal waters you see in promotional photos - even my photos here, Crystal River is never chocolate milk like my little cove, but its not always crystalline water.

It doesn’t need to be blue to be an unforgettable transformative moment

So in a typical area to look for manatees, the water is not as clear as the promotional photos - including my blue photos here.

The water is indeed crystal but boats, humans, and even the manatees themselves tend to stir up sediment.

The blue photos I'm sharing here were taken during 15 minutes of the 12 hours I logged swimming with them this year.

Get a good guide and trust the process, because it is always amazing. Wait for the silt will part just in time to reveal the animals. The mystery it builds can be appreciated as its own wonder. You will experience manatees in an unforgettable way.

Don’t Miss!

Be sure to listen for their sweet chirps, it took me awhile to realize they could sing. :)

A little family of sweet water babies.

Do you want to swim with the manatees? I would recommend a guided swim with Birds Underwater, locally-owned top-notch dive center with fantastic manatee swim / snorkel experiences.

Prefer to kayak and observe from above? Another locally owned gem is Kacey's Custom Adventures She has a great location so it's less paddle, more manatee, with a friendly and knowledgeable local guide. Kayaking with manatees is also unforgettable.


Mask - Be sure it's a silicone skirt mask, most are. Do not use a full face unless the snorkel directly connects to the outside air.

Snorkel - Easy Clear

Pool Noodle - Embrace your inner seven-year-old. Everyone has one.

Wetsuit - Yup, it's cold! The tour guides provide you with wetsuits, noodles and will keep you safe in the water.

Pro Tip:

Skip the fins! Even an experienced snorkeler will kick up silt in this shallow, high-silt environment. You don't need to cover distance, mostly just floating, and fins are looked down upon so skip the fins.

Feel free to browse Cressi, the snorkel brand I've been using for 20 years. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a little bit from each qualifying purchase. This is at no extra cost to you, and helps support the whole site.

Click here: CRESSI SHOP


Links to consider:

Have you swam with manatees?

Tips? Funny stories?

Let us know below!

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