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TECO Manatee Viewing Center opens Monday during critical period for species

As manatees die in record numbers, the center will focus on better awareness and education
Posted at 5:48 PM, Oct 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 09:29:01-04

APOLLO BEACH, Fla. — After being closed for 19 months, Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center will open Monday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Since the 1970s, hundreds of manatees have sought refuge in an Apollo Beach canal where warm water is discharged from Tampa Electric’s Big Bend power station.

"They’re very cold-sensitive animals so when the bay water drops below 68 they have to seek out warm water," said Jamie Woodlee, an environmental technician at TECO's Manatee Viewing Center.

Woodlee said the center normally draws in 400,000 people a year, but it's been closed since March 2020.

Now, it's reopening at a critical time to spread awareness and educate visitors about the vulnerable mammal.

"People need to start being made aware of the plight of this animal because it’s not very good this year. They’ve had a lot of deaths," said Woodlee.

In fact, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has reported 984 manatees deaths so far in 2021, which is the most ever on record and represents 13% of the state's estimated overall population. Right now, there’s a bill in Congress that would place manatees back on the endangered species list.

Manatee deaths have been caused by factors such as boat strikes, red tide and starvation.

It's why Woodless and Patrick Rose, the executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, say educating the public about manatees is essential.

“It’s a critically important component. There are hundreds of thousands of people that will visit that center during the course of the winter when it’s open. There are hundreds of manatees that come to stay warm at the power plant there," said Rose.

“This is a great opportunity for people to learn about what’s going on with manatees overall and the southeast United States, especially Florida. And to know that there are many different sources of problems for them," he continued.

During the hiatus, the Tampa Electric Manatee View Center renovated its education center and will soon offer new exhibits and educational games.

Right now, the waters in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are not cold enough to cause manatees to seek out the warmer water discharged by the power plant, but visitors to the Manatee Viewing Center can still enjoy spotting other marine life and hiking on nearby trails.

Admission and parking at the Apollo Beach facility are free at 6990 Dickman Rd. The boardwalks are wheelchair-accessible.

Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting Monday through April 15. It is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, and the facility closes at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Comfortable shoes and clothing are recommended, and no pets are allowed except trained service animals.

You can visit the center online at where you can see a webcam image of the canal starting Monday, or call 813-228-4289 for more information.