Amazing pictures of 300 manatees invading a popular swimming hole

A popular freshwater spring in Florida was forced to close it waters to tourists this week after more than 300 manatees moved in.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in King’s Bay, on the western edge of the city of Crystal River, hosts what it bills as the only place where people can actually swim and play with the endangered species.

Around 250,000 people a year pour $US30 million into the city’s economy as they paddle, snorkel and swim with the manatees in the 22C waters.

The manatees are annual guests, gathering to warm up after migrating up from the Gulf of Mexico.

Except this year, they’re overdoing it a little. It could be good news – manatee numbers are up to a record of 797 in the bay, according to Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge biologist Joyce Kleen. The previous record since monitoring began was 657 in 2012.

When the tide’s up, they drift into Three Sisters Springs where tourists, after watching a “manatee Manners” presentation, are allowed to float and watch them within touching distance.

And take amazing photos like this:

But yesterday, when nearly 300 manatees rushed the springs, management decided to close the springs.

“We have a record number this year,” Laura Ruettiman, an environmental education guide at the springs, told USA Today.

“We have 150 more manatees here than have ever been recorded in the past.”

Ruettiman said the high numbers could be a result of the increasing protection the springs offer the manatees, as other habitats are being destroyed.