We had never seen manatees in their natural habitat so took a trip to the Blue Springs state park which is about 52 miles north of Disney World, at Orange city, virtually all the way on the I-4. The admission fee was $6 for the car.
We arrived at 0900 and booked a trip on St. Johns River Cruises and Tours. We were setting off at 10:00 a.m. (they also depart at 1:00 p.m). This is a two-hour narrated nature and ecological cruise on the St. Johns River (an interesting river as it flows North). I would definitely recommend the trip (priced at $22 for an adult) it was a fascinating glimpse at real florida. The boat Captain and narrator (Peter) was excellent providing details on the trees, birds and animals that we saw and that live on the various stretches of land and islands that we passed. The river was about 3 foot higher than usual owing to Hurricane Issac. The vessel is quiet and does not scare off the birds and animals along the banks, with the Captain slowing down the boat to a stop for more detailed photography and discussions.
Shown below are some of the birds and animals photographed during the boat trip, included are Anhinga, great blue heron, great egret, black vultures, lots of turtles warming on logs and of course several alligators and baby alligators. There were also flowers in bloom like this wild purple Aster.
We then took a walk to the Thursby house, built in 1872, which remains standing and you can walk around the downstairs rooms and see what life was like for one of the first settler families in this region.
Past the house and onto a self-guided boardwalk leads through the lush forest with sable palms, saw palmetto and other native trees up to the Blue Spring. The manatees had returned to the warmth of the spring, which runs at a constant 72 degrees, creating a safe haven for the West Indian manatee.
The Blue waters spring shown in the photo below pours out some 100 million gallons of fresh clean and clear water.
I saw probably 30-40 manatees in the spring waters off the St Johns river, many young ones swimming next to the mother. The white colouring on some of the Manatees are scars, probably from being hit by speedboats and other water craft. We spent a few hours watching these gentle giants frolic and enjoy life in the crystal clear waters of the spring. Manatees have no natural enemies, and can live to 70-80 tears old, but are vulnerable to death from cold stress when water drops below 60 F, hence their migration to the warm spring waters. They are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, too right when there are only a few thousand left in Florida.
To finish off a great day at this fantastic state park we spotted a couple of bald eagles together , shown in the photo below.
This park is great to visit all year long, and when the Manatees leave in spring (the swimming area is generally closed November 15 through March 1) then it’s great for swimming, tubing or snorkelling. Professional divers even go scuba diving into the Blue Springs underwater cave.