One of my favorite places to go when it gets cold out, is the Manatee Viewing Center. The 500-acre center is located right outside Riverview in Apollo Beach and is operated in collaboration with Tampa Electric, The Florida Aquarium and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. TECO’s Big Bend Power Station provides warmth to the water, causing large amounts of manatees to gather in the canal. In addition to the many manatees, the center offers a ray touch tank, little cafe, butterfly garden, education and gift shop.
It is open in the cooler months from November 1 through April 15. However, you will catch the most manatees on the cooler days. The center is completely free, but donations are appreciated. In addition to viewing manatees, there is the Clean Energy Center, an open-air pavilion where kids and adults are taught about clean energy through fun informative games.
Lauren Gomez, environmental specialist with TECO, said, “The center is one of the few places around the world that you can see manatees. One of my favorite things about my job is that I get to share that every day. It is really special.”
She also said the center has visitors from all around the world. Schools can request group visits online.
On January 21, the center had a 5K run for the manatees. Proceeds from the race were donated to Tampa Bay Watch and its seagrass restoration efforts; seagrass is a manatee’s favorite dish, so it helps keep the manatees fed and happy. The registrations also helped with manatee rescue and release efforts. The race was throughout the center, getting to see beautiful trails, wildlife and more. This was the second annual run, and finishers received a T-shirt, bib and finisher medal. There were also awards for top finishers.
There’re many ways to help the manatees. First, the easiest one is to pick up your trash and recycle what can be. Secondly, boaters should go slow in no-wake zones and keep an eye out for manatees. They can also purchase a prop guard to cover propellers and protect manatees from sharp blades. Lastly, report an injured or tagged manatee to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline.
For more information on the Manatee Viewing Center, visit www.tampaelectric.com/company/mvc/.