By Sandy Meyer

Tampa Electric’s (TECO) award-winning Manatee Viewing Center has opened its doors for its 31st season this month.

Considering that November is also Manatee Awareness Month the timing of the event each year is by no means coincidence.

According to TECO officials the center has welcomed more than 5 million visitors since 1986 and with some recent new additions there is plenty for all ages to learn and enjoy.

Each year, the 50-acre Manatee Viewing Center draws an average of 275,000 visitors – including about 10,000 schoolchildren.

In a recent article posted on the centers Facebook page Stan Kroh, manager of Land and Stewardship Programs for Tampa Electric was quoted to say, “We’re proud to be the showcase for Tampa Electric’s commitment to environmental stewardship.”

When the temperature of Tampa Bay dips to or below 68 degrees the center is perfect for the gentle giants as they gather in the clean, warm water discharge canal of TECO’s Big Bend Power Station.

Visitors can see the mammals—sometimes by the hundreds—up close from multiple boardwalks and vantage points. Of course, there is more to just viewing the manatees, which leads to the purpose of Manatee Awareness.

For manatee enthusiasts it is also a time to celebrate Florida’s beloved, iconic, marine mammal and to shed light on the many challenges imperiled manatees face daily, including watercraft-related injuries and deaths that reportedly continue to rise. The boating public is urged to be on the alert and prevent strikes to manatees. Manatees also face dangers from prolonged colder temperatures, or die from red tide outbreaks.

None of this should mean only doom and gloom for the much-favored creature as the public can be actively engaged in manatee and habitat protection.

“Education and public awareness remain the key to savings manatee lives,” said Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club in a recent release. “The public should learn about their plight, and how protecting them is in all our best interests. We should understand our role as responsible stewards of manatees and their habitat, and how it can be beneficial to those things we hold dear.”

The Manatee Viewing Center’s regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day from November 1 through April 15. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Parking and admission are free. For info, visit www.tampaelectric.com/manatee or call 813-228-4289 or savethemanatee.org.