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Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach

[Times photo: Bill Serne 1997]
Observing manatees from underwater is a relaxing experience.

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2000

Designated an official manatee sanctuary in 1986 by the state, this Tampa Bay Power Plant has a seasonal manatee viewing area that is free and open to the public.

An observation platform provides a good place to watch the manatees that flock to the warm water discharge when the winter cold fronts cause bay water temperatures to plummet.

The Manatee Viewing Center has an excellent environmental education building, gift shop and a walkway through a tidal flat where visitors can see an estuary and its native flora and fauna.

The center closed April 9 but will re-open in mid-November when the water cools and more than 200 manatees call the sheltered waters of Tampa Bay home. But the best bet is to watch the weather report. When bay temperatures drop below 68 degrees, the manatees move into the canal.

During the summer, the bay still has about 50 to 60 resident manatees. These slow-moving creatures feed, rest and give birth in the shallow seagrass meadows that also provide a home to many popular sportfish, putting them in constant danger of being injured or killed by speeding boats.

You can help by being careful on the water:

  • Wear polarized sunglasses to better see the animals.
  • Stay in deep water channels. Avoid running your motor over seagrass beds.
  • Look for a manatee's snout, back, tail or flipper in the water. A swirl or flat spot signals a manatee may be swimming below.
  • Watch for posted speed zone and sanctuary signs.
  • Don't discard fishing line, hooks or trash into the water.

* * *

To learn more about the Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach call (813) 228-4289.

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