By Tamas Mondovics
Thanks to a joint effort by the Florida Aquarium, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Tampa Electric, residents who enjoy spending time at the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach will now have another reason to visit the facility. The project is still in its planning stages and could take 3-4 years to complete but once finished, will be a premier conservation and education facility.
According to a press release announcement, the landmark partnership between the three organizations is to create a unique, new conservation and technology park on 22 acres.
The admission and parking-free facility will serve as a nexus for recreation, learning and conservation research and technology, promising to offer a new source of education to the more than 200,000 who visit the manatee viewing center already.
“It is an honor to be a part of this amazing project,” said Thom Stork, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium. “This innovative park will not only assist us in the day-to-day operations of the aquarium, but will help expand our marine life education, rescue and research footprint throughout our community and the state.”
According to the initial report, some of the highlights of the park include an Energy Technology Center, which will feature outdoor exhibits demonstrating state-of-the-art energy technologies.
A center for conservation, jointly managed by the Florida Aquarium and the FWC, will also engage and educate visitors about the vital connections between Florida’s water, plants and fish.
Highlighting the aquarium’s conservation, education and animal rescue programs as well as FWC’s Fisheries and Youth Conservation education programs, the center will show how these contribute to preserving Florida’s animals and ecosystems.
A Camps and Educational Facility, as part of the Center for Conservation, will provide unique learning experiences which will help students of all grade levels in hands-on exploration of Florida’s natural environment.
The Animal Rescue, Research and Holding Facility will be staffed and managed by the Florida Aquarium, providing much-needed additional animal holding capacity to maintain its exhibits and house critical programs that help preserve threatened and endangered species and ecosystems.
The facility will feature the Aquarium’s rescue and rehabilitation programs for endangered species, such as sea turtles and river otters, and new research facilities for the Aquarium’s research initiatives, like the coral reef restoration project.
Hopes for the future include opportunities to kayak through mangrove forests, visitors can tackle a physically challenging Treetop Interpretative Trail and elevated viewing platform to observe native birds.
Catch and Release Fishing Programs conducted by the Florida Aquarium and FWC at the park for all ages, along with fishing clinics, fishing for families and fishing camps are also on the horizon.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who advocated for the park during a visit in Washington, D.C., last July and said that the project would be a great asset to the community.
“I am pleased to be a longtime supporter of the Aquarium and their continued efforts for the economic development through tourism in Hillsborough County,” he said.
While the specific details of the park are still in the conceptual phase, the partnership’s vision is clearly focused on demonstrating the potential for technology and nature to work together harmoniously for the greater good of the community and the state.
For more information, contact Katherine Chakour with the Florida Aquarium at 486-1645.