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Manatee Viewing Center opens for the season

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image The tidal walk is a 900-foot ADA-compliant walk along the estuary and through mangrove tunnels. The center has plans for expanding existing nature trails. Photo Mitch Traphagen

People have been coming to the site during the winter months since 1986.

By Mitch Traphagen
The TECO Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach opened on Friday with a new look and with more improvements to come. Although the Tampa Bay water temperature is still too warm to cause manatees to seek warm water shelter near the TECO power plant, the viewing center offers a wide variety of things beyond its most famous guests.

Among those features are the tidal walk, a 900-foot ADA-compliant walkway allowing visitors to stroll along the basin and the estuary and even through mangrove tunnels. Signs along the way point out the wildlife and the importance of the unique habitat that exists along the walk.

All around the growing center are signs and displays with information about manatees and the environment in which they live and that which surrounds them.  The Big Bend discharge canal is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary providing needed protection from cold water for the slow-moving, gentle giants.

If you are curious as to what it would be like to stand in the winds of a hurricane, you can do that, too, for a small charge in the center’s hurricane simulator. Along with the simulated hurricane winds comes information about how TECO prepares for and plans to recover from possible future hurricanes impacting the Bay Area.

Volunteers are on site to provide information to visitors and there is an extensive gift shop. Solar panel trees provide power and, coincidentally, shade for vehicles in the expanded parking lot. New nature trails are in place and among those currently under construction are trails connecting the Manatee Viewing Center with a new conservation and technology park, a program resulting from a partnership with the Florida Aquarium, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and TECO.

The discharge canal provides the slow-moving, gentle giants with protection from cold water.

Even with so much to offer, it is the manatees that are the star attraction at the center. People have been coming to the site during the winter months since 1986 as the manatees came to enjoy the warm, clean saltwater used in cooling the power plant.  In the coming weeks, when the temperature drops below 68 degrees in the bay, the manatees will begin arriving in large numbers. The bay temperature was approximately 75 degrees on the center’s opening day on Nov. 1. The temperature inside the relatively shallow basin was a balmy 88 degrees.

The Manatee Viewing Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from Nov. 1 to April 15. The center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and Easter. It closes at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

The expansive center is well worth a trip on any occasion but for those who just can’t make it, TECO offers a live webcam of the basin, offering a glimpse of the manatees through the web.

The TECO Manatee Viewing Center is located at 6990 Dickman Road in Apollo Beach. Both admission and parking are free.  The center is ADA compliant.

For more information, visit www.tampaelectric.com/company/mvc or call 813-228-4289.

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