Tampa Electric Company’s Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach is a unique chance to view 1,000-lb. vegetarian sea mammals up close and personal. Manatees are very popular in the state of Florida, but they are on the endangered species list. There are not many left in the surrounding waters of Florida, but the viewing center is one place where they do congregate at certain times of the year.
“It is not unusual for more than 300 manatees to be in the warm water near the center,” said Jamie Woodlee, who is a TECO employee and the person in charge of the day-to-day operations at the viewing center.
Manatees can’t tolerate cold water. Unlike whales and seals, they don’t have a thick layer of blubber. When water temperatures reach 68 degrees in Tampa Bay, manatees seek the warm, clean waters of the TECO’s power station warm water discharge.
“This is a perfect example of how technology and nature can survive together,” said Woodlee.
The manatees, along with all different types of fish, have been coming to this area ever since the warm water has been discharged, but, in 1986, the area was closed off to the public for recreation. Since then, TECO created the viewing center and opened it up to the public free of charge. Since 1986, the area has been deemed a state and federal preserve. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission comes out on a regular basis and test the environment to make sure it is healthy for the animals.
Well over 200,000 people visit the viewing center each season between the months of November-April; field trips are welcome.
The viewing platform, which has tripled in size since last year, is not the only thing to do; visitors also can walk on a 900-ft. bay walk, visit a butterfly garden, spend time in the education center and buy something from the newly renovated gift shop or get a bite to eat at the concession area. The facilities are improved and are always changing for the better.
“We offer a little bit of everything,” said Woodlee. “It is important for people to come and learn about conserving Florida nature.”
The viewing center, located at 6990 Dickman Rd. in Apollo Beach, is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. It is For more information or to view their brand new Webcams visit www.tampaelectric.com/manatee.