The coastal and western inland areas of Citrus County north of Tampa and St. Petersburg are sometimes called the Nature Coast, and aptly so. Flora and fauna have been well preserved in this area, and West Indian manatees are showstoppers. These gentle vegetarian marine mammals, distantly related to elephants, remain an endangered species, though their numbers have grown to 3,500 or more today. Many manatees have massive scars on their backs from run-ins with boat propellers. Extensive nature preserves and parks have been created to protect them and other wildlife indigenous to the area, and these are among the best spots to view manatees in the wild. Although they’re far from mythical beauties, it’s believed that manatees inspired ancient mariners' tales of mermaids. This is one of the few spots in the world where you can legally swim with—and even touch—these gentle creatures.
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