Every year, when the temperature of the water in Tampa Bay drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, manatees, otherwise known as the cows of the sea, head to the TECO Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach, Florida. They go there for the warmth of the heated wastewater leaving the power plant’s discharge canal and gather around a special viewing area for tourists.
There are observation platforms and a nature walk through the mangroves and shallows leading out to the discharge canal. Many types of birds and sea creatures are often seen, including stingrays, pelicans, and cranes. A special butterfly garden draws additional visitors.
Across the canal is an unobstructed view of the Power Station and its four smoking stacks, the huge industrially impressive site offering a strange but enjoyable counterpoint to the humble, lumpy manatees which gather around it. Big Bend’s discharge canal is designated by the state and Federal governments as a “manatee sanctuary” that offers much-needed protection to these endangered animals.
The Manatee Viewing Center offers free parking and admission for its guests. Any donations you choose to make to the center are greatly appreciated and go directly toward the purchase and maintenance of educational exhibits and publications that can help teach more visitors about the manatee and the many animals and plants that share its habitat, according to the center’s official website.
Know Before You Go
The center is open November 1 through April 15.