It’s almost wintertime in Florida, and although we don’t experience the extremely cold temperatures as our northern neighbors, the Gulf waters do cool down below 68 degrees and that means that the native manatees must find shelter in warmer waters.

Many seek refuge at TECO’s Big Bend facility as warm water flows from the power station’s discharge canal. The Manatee Viewing Center, located at 6990 Dickman Rd. in Apollo Beach, is both a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary providing critical protection from the cold. The viewing center is much more than just seeing the manatees.

According to TECO’s Environmental Technician Jamie Woodlee, “We are a free environmental education facility where people can come learn about manatees and Florida wildlife/plants in general.”
Stroll among award-winning butterfly gardens and enjoy the Florida-friendly landscaping. Along the way, there is a variety of native and coastal plant life, where you can also catch a glimpse of animals in the wild that make the center’s habitat their home.

Accessed by the nature trails, the boardwalk will take you to the wildlife observation tower which opened in 2014.

The tower is 50 ft. tall and gives you a great view of the surrounding area and Tampa Bay. The entrances are located at the south end of the Manatee Viewing Center’s parking lot. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the tables at the base of the tower.

Built and located to minimize the impact on the environment, the tower, boardwalk and habitat trail are part of a network of trails that will connect to the Florida Conservation and Technology Center, an under-construction project between Tampa Electric, the Florida Aquarium and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Manatee Viewing Center’s tidal walk is featured as part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, but offers more than just vibrant birdlife. During your walk on 900-ft., ADA-compliant walkway from the center to the Tampa Bay Estuary, you can identify a wide selection of native coastal plants and trees as well as a wide variety of animal life.

New for this year will be a ray’s touch tank and the boardwalks have been widened leading out to the viewing area. Both parking and admission are free.

The Manatee Viewing Center is open now through April 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (wildlife observation tower and habitat trails close at 4 p.m.). It is closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Easter.

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Michelle Colesanti
Michelle has been with the Osprey Observer for almost nine years, and her current position is Assignment Editor. She resides in Bloomingdale with her husband Phil, two sons, Philip and Matthew, and Tigger the cat.