A local gem in the southern part of Hillsborough County, the TECO Manatee Viewing Center and Habitat Trail is a great place for both locals and visitors to learn more about the wildlife and natural habitats in the Tampa Bay area.
The story of how the TECO Big Bend Power Station became a Manatee winter habitat is actually quite simple. When the waters of the Tampa Bay dip below 70 degrees, Manatees start moving to try to find warmer waters. The Power Station, which uses salt water, makes a warmer environment, perfect for the Manatees.
When it was discovered that more and more manatees were finding refuge from the colder waters at the Big Bend Power Station, it was decided that it would be officially designated a manatee preserve to help the manatees survive the winter temperatures of the Bay, and the Viewing Center was born.
Millions of visitors have traveled to the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach to catch a glimpse at the gentle giants in the waters below. There is a viewing deck at the front of the location that is accessible by both steps and a ramp. While on the deck there is also an educational volunteer on hand to teach visitors about everything that the Viewing Center has to offer.
As you walk the boardwalk to the next viewing deck, be sure to check out the butterfly garden and enjoy the views that the walk has to offer. Once at the next viewing deck, there is an opportunity to see some more manatees, not as close as the first deck but from afar. Be on the look for other marine life like Tarpon that usually swims in those waterways as well.
New at the Manatee Viewing Center this year is the Sting Ray Touch Tank located on the ground level, towards the front entrance. These sting rays are actually the same ones that live in the outfield of Tropicana Field, the home of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays. These sting rays are now spending the offseason in Apollo Beach and will return to Tropicana at the start of the upcoming baseball season. Visitors have the opportunity to earn more about sting rays and even put their hand in the tank and touch one.
Just on the other side of the parking lot is the entrance to the Wildlife Observation Tower and Habitat Trail. The trail is a little less than a mile and is a rock and dirt path so it is highly recommended to wear sneakers or another type of closed in shoes. The path then lead to a boardwalk which takes visitors right to the Tower. Climb a few stories and there will be views of the Tampa Bay that you definitely won’t want miss!
The Manatee Viewing Center is definitely fun and educational for families and groups of all ages.
The TECO Manatee Viewing Center and Observation Tower is FREE to all visitors as is parking. It is open from November 1 until April 15 from 10am until 5pm; the Tower is only open until 4pm.The Center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Easter.
TECO Manatee Viewing Center is located at 6990 Dickman Road in Apollo Beach just off of Big Bend Road; exit 246 on I-75.