Tampa Electric’s award-winning Manatee Viewing Center opened earlier this month for the first season since the pandemic started.

After 19 months, Tampa Electric’s award-winning Manatee Viewing Center opened earlier this month for the first season since the pandemic started.

“For the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the Manatee Viewing Center every winter, we have missed you, and we are so glad to welcome you back,” said Stan Kroh, manager of Land and Stewardship Programs for Tampa Electric.

Since the center closed in March 2020, Tampa Electric undertook extensive renovations and repairs of the education building to include new displays and interactive games. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of the year. The center also is taking extra safety precautions, such as limiting the number of guests inside the gift shop, requiring masks indoors, having enhanced cleaning procedures and getting additional hand sanitizer stations.

When the water temperature of Tampa Bay is 68 degrees or colder, manatees gather in the clean, warm water discharge canal of Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station, sometimes by the hundreds. Manatee Viewing Center visitors can see the mammals up close from multiple boardwalks and vantage points. Visitors can also enjoy meeting the stingrays, critical animals that rely on a healthy Tampa Bay ecosystem—and even touch them gently as they glide past in the touch tank. Plus, guests can hike the nature trail and take in the vistas from the 50-foot observation tower.

The manatees have gathered in the canal to find refuge from the cold since the early 1970s. Each season, the center draws nearly 400,000 visitors—for a total of more than 6 million.

The Manatee Viewing Center is the anchor attraction for the Florida Conservation and Technology Center (FCTC), which is a public-private partnership to showcase nature and technology. In addition to Tampa Electric, the partners include The Florida Aquarium and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Ultimately, the FCTC campus will include Tampa Electric’s Clean Energy Center, The Florida Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center and Coral Care Complex and FWC’s Suncoast Youth Conservation Center and Marine Fisheries Enhancement Center. Some buildings will open Monday, and other buildings remain under construction.

The grand opening of the 500-acre Florida Conservation and Technology Center will occur in January.

Admission and parking at the Apollo Beach facility are free. The boardwalks are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act for our guests’ convenience

The Manatee Viewing Center’s regular hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. every day through April 15, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. (The facility closes at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.) Comfortable shoes and clothing are recommended. Please note that no pets are allowed, only trained service animals.

Visit the center online at www.tampaelectric.com/manatee or call 228-4289 for more information.

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