By Ali Renckens
When the rest of the country starts bundling up in parkas and earmuffs, balmy Florida welcomes the arrival of one species of cold-weather refugees: Manatees.
The Big Bend Power Station, owned and operated by TECO, has been a popular spot to observe manatees since the plant opened in 1986. The manatees, which prefer water 68 degrees or higher, are attracted to the artificially warm water ejected from the power station. Now, the center provides a manatee sanctuary, dedicated to the protection of the gentle sea cows. In their environmental education building, TECO offers vivid insight into the manatee, as well as how the company strives to generate electricity in an environmentally responsible manner. Every year, people visit the Manatee Viewing Center to observe the marine mammals in person or watch from online through the “manatee web cam.”
This center is part of a larger effort, a collaboration of TECO, the Florida Aquarium and the conservation commission, to create a conservation and technology park. Projected to open in a few years, visitors will be able to visit an energy technology center, conservation center, fish hatchery, educational program, waterways for kayaking and more. Already several fascinating activities and gorgeous sights have been established. On a .8 mile habitat trail, bursting with breathtaking flora and abounding with wildlife, visitors can admire various habitats. They can also be charmed by the butterfly gardens or churned by a hurricane simulator.
More than just a relaxing and pleasant experience, public awareness for the plight of the humble sea cow is essential to its survival. This year has been the most devastating year for the Florida manatee ever recorded. At the beginning of November, the Save the Manatee Club revealed that there have been 769 deaths this year, almost twice as many as last year.
Located at 6990 Dickman Rd. in Apollo Beach, the Manatee Viewing Center is open daily (with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas day and Easter) from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
For more information or to watch the manatee via web cam, check out tampa electriccompany/company/mvc.