The Manatee Viewing Center, located at 6990 Dickman Rd, Apollo Beach, FL 33572, is a unique and enchanting destination that offers visitors a chance to observe manatees and other wildlife in a natural sanctuary. As a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary, it serves a crucial role in protecting these gentle giants, especially during the colder months when manatees migrate to warmer waters.
The center is situated near the Big Bend Power Station, which discharges clean, warm water back into Tampa Bay. This warm water attracts manatees, especially when the bay’s temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The center offers a rare opportunity for visitors to see these fascinating creatures up close as they gather in the warm discharge canal.
The Manatee Viewing Center operates from November 1st through April 15th, between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with trails closing at 4 p.m. It remains closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and Easter. Remarkably, both parking and admission are free, making it an accessible destination for all. For those planning to visit in large groups, the center encourages making a reservation beforehand.
The center is not just about manatee viewing; it also includes various educational and interactive experiences. Visitors can explore boardwalks that offer views of the manatee’s warm-water habitat, learn about manatee ecology and conservation at the newly remodeled education center, and even enjoy a meal at the Southshore Café. A notable feature is the tidal walk, a part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. This 900-foot ADA-compliant walkway allows visitors to observe a variety of native coastal plants, trees, and wildlife, culminating in a spot where manatees can be viewed in the power station’s discharge canal.
Additionally, the center boasts a Rays Touch Tank, a collaboration with the Florida Aquarium. This feature provides an up-close experience with cownose rays, the mascots of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, offering an interactive and educational element to the visit.
There’s also a coastal habitat trail connected to the center. This trail, stretching eight-tenths of a mile, passes through diverse habitats like saltern, coastal high marsh, and coastal strand. A wildlife observation tower along this trail offers panoramic views of the surrounding area, including Tampa Bay. The center also features solar tables along the trails where visitors can charge their phones or other electronics.
The environmental education building within the center houses interactive and educational displays about manatees and their habitats. Visitors can explore manatee bones, navigate through a mangrove tunnel, and learn about the challenges these creatures face in the wild.
For those interested in contributing more actively, the center offers volunteer opportunities. Volunteers, known as docents, play a vital role in educating visitors about manatees and their environment. The center asks volunteers to commit at least one day a week for four hours during its operational season.
In summary, the Manatee Viewing Center provides a unique blend of wildlife observation, education, and conservation. It’s a place where visitors can learn about and appreciate the beauty of manatees and their environment, making it a must-visit destination for wildlife enthusiasts and families alike.