Mar 15, 2023 - News

🤿 Columbus' manatee connection is clear — even in Florida

A close-up side view of a manatee underwater with algae on her back

A female manatee Alissa encountered while on vacation in Crystal River. Photo: Courtesy of Crystal River Watersports

👋 Alissa here with the highlight of my recent vacation: an up-close encounter with a wild manatee.

Driving the news: I took a boat tour in Crystal River, Florida, the "Manatee Capital of the World" — and a city with an important link to Columbus.

Catch up quick: The Columbus Zoo was the first facility outside Florida to rehabilitate injured manatees with the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, a coalition of agencies that protects the animals.

  • The threatened species faces numerous challenges from boats, cold stress and starvation.
  • Since 1999, the zoo has helped 32 total manatees return to the wild.

What I did: I jumped into the waters where six have been released! That includes calves Acorn and Einstein, reintroduced just last month.

How it works: Manatees retreat inland to warm, clear springs during cold months, bringing the gentle giants closer to humans — and potential threats.

  • While we missed peak season, our tour still found one easygoing female in the deeper, murkier waters of Kings Bay.
  • We kept a respectful distance, floating above her until she surfaced for air.

Quick take: Coming face-to-face with a 1,000-pound creature was humbling, to say the least.

The bottom line: On the ride back to shore, I shared that I'm from Columbus — the guides were well aware of our zoo's important role in manatee rescue.

  • Seeing that impact firsthand was something I'll never forget.
Alissa poses next to a manatee mural on a brick wall
While being respectful in wild manatee habitats means you may not snap the perfect selfie, there are plenty of murals to pose with throughout Crystal River. Photo: Alissa Widman Neese/Axios

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