A significant challenge to wildlife managers in tourism settings is to provide visitors with opportunities to observe rare and endangered wildlife while simultaneously protecting the target species from deleterious impacts. Nearly 100,000 people annually visit Crystal River, Florida, USA to observe and swim with the Florida manatee, an endangered species. This research aimed to investigate and describe human–manatee interactions in a tourism context, to understand the salient issues related to such interactions as identified by stakeholders, and to recommend a course of action to address multiple interests in the planning and management of human–manatee interactions. Five issues were identified by all stakeholder groups: water quality, harassment, density and crowding, education, and enforcement. Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for manatee management, does not have mechanisms in place to manage the tourism component of the manatee encounter. Although a regulatory approach can be taken, a better approach would be to create an organization of tour operators to establish “best practices” that reflect the goal of the managing agency to enhance manatee protection (and thus ensure their livelihood) and to enhance the visitor experience.
Keywords: Human-wildlife interactions - Trichechus manatus - Manatee - Swim with - Wildlife tourism - Marine mammals