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Florida Manatees and Endangered Habitats

An educational, conservation-focused program that includes opportunities to snorkel with manatees and to explore the ecology of Florida's secret springs. This family-friendly trip is hosted at the historic Espedeco Tree Farm.

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  • Named one of National Geographic Traveler's "50 Tours of a Lifetime" in 2015!
  • Snorkel alongside large groups of manatees in crystal-clear springs.
  • Stay on a historic, private, family-owned tree farm with 1,100 acres of sustainably managed habitat that is home to abundant native wildlife.
  • Enjoy diverse activities including guided nature hikes or airboat excursions, and learn about local ecology and conservation.

Oceanic Society is excited to bring you this unique, educational experience with Florida's manatees and vanishing ecosystems.

>> Read a blog post about this program written by naturalist Samantha Whitcraft.

This is a great program for families. The highlight of the adventure will be two mornings spent snorkeling alongside large congregations of Florida's endangered manatees, in the crystal clear springs that they rely on in the winter months. Afternoons and additional days will include exploring the grounds of Espedeco Tree Farm (described below) and naturalist guided airboat excursions.

During your stay, members of the local conservation community will come and talk with the group. For example, we will discuss how wildlife photography is used to showcase the often forgotten wilderness and charismatic species in our own backyard. Park rangers and wildlife rescuers will also discuss the challenges of preserving the vital springs and surrounding habitats from development and poor water usage.

This program is designed to integrate the experience of viewing manatees in the wild with opportunities to learn about how that ability is dependent on the preservation of the native ecology of the region. The program leader will provide natural history and ecology lectures on the other evenings.

Through this experience, participants will have an opportunity for full immersion in this Florida ecosystem and will get to see that sometimes you do not have to go across the globe to see vital wildlife communities and learn about conservation challenges.

Wildlife Highlights

The highlight of our trip will be two mornings spent snorkeling with manatees in their warm water winter refuge. The manatees are part of the Crystal River herd, which makes up roughly 25 percent of the United States' manatee population.

We will also have ample time to explore Espedeco's forests, which protect a disappearing habitat where many of Florida's native species can still be found in abundance, including alligators, bobcats, endangered gopher tortoises, armadillos, opossums, white tailed deer, foxes, and a wide variety of birds including osprey, owls, and hawks. Espedeco's open fields and wild meadows are also home to many species of butterflies.

Trip Dates & Cost

2019: January 17–21. $1,475 per person.* Group limit 13.

* Single supplement fee $475. Trip price does not include airfare. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.


Samantha Whitcraft holds a bachelor in Natural Sciences from Harvard University and earned her master of Marine Affairs and Policy at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. As a conservation biologist, she has worked with National Geographic, WildAid and local communities to research and develop sustainable ecotourism and "citizen science." A resident of Florida, her fieldwork has taken her to the Amazon, Kiribati, the Bahamas, Fiji, and the Galapagos.

Nataly Castelblanco-Martinez is a Colombian conservation biologist with extensive experience with aquatic mammals in South America and the Caribbean. She holds a master in freshwater biology and fisheries and a Ph.D. in ecology and sustainable development, and is regional co-chair of the IUCN Sirenian Specialist Group. Nataly's work has focused on the ecology, behavior, population dynamics, morphology and ethno-knowledge of aquatic mammals.


Day 1: Arrival
Arrive to the tree farm

Day 2-3: Manatees & Ecosystems
Enjoy a morning manatee swim and afternoon hiking on the property.

Day 4: Swamp Airboat Tour & Conservation Seminar
In the morning, we'll take a 1-hour airboat tour of the local swamp ecosystem. In the afternoon, we'll enjoy an educational presentation on "local critters," presented by a Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park Ranger. In the evening we will have a Community Night, with dinner and presentations by international manatee experts.

Day 5: Departure
Leisurely breakfast, depart


A historic cabin on Espedeco Tree Farm. © Samantha Whitcraft

Participants stay in restored, historic houses and cabins on the private, family-owned, 100-year-old Espedeco Tree Farm, which protects 1,100 acres of vital and vanishing habitats where many native species are still found in abundance.

Espedeco's forests protect a disappearing habitat, where many of Florida's native species can still be found in abundance, including alligators, bobcat, endangered gopher tortoises, armadillo, opossum, white tailed deer, foxes, and a wide variety of birds including osprey, owls, and hawks. Espedeco's open fields and wild meadows are also home to many species of butterflies. The property formerly belonged to the Southern Phosphate Development Company and contained a phosphate mine and company housing.

The Whitcraft Trust, which owns the property, is working with the Citrus County Historical Society in applying to include two of the Southern Phosphate Development Company's original and fully restored mining camp houses (from the late 1800s) and two additional/associated buildings from the 1920s on the City of Inverness's list of historical structures via the Florida Master Site File; and will also seek to nominate these buildings for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

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