Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach is not only a local electric company but also a manatee viewing center and refuge.
Manatees flock in large numbers to the power station’s discharge canal where saltwater – taken from Tampa Bay to cool Unit 4 – flows, clean and warm, back to the bay. As Tampa Bay reaches 68 degrees or colder, the mammals seek out the canal as a refuge. Hundreds of onlookers show up each day to try to catch a glimpse of the chubby mammal.
Big Bend’s discharge canal is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary that provides critical protection from the cold for these unique, gentle animals. Viewing decks are lined with trees that create a tunnel to open-air and if you are lucky, you will spot a buoyant manatee and his crew.
Inside the viewing center sits an environmental education building and vibrant displays that inform visitors about the manatee and its habitat. Other displays show how Big Bend Power Station generates electricity for the community in an environmentally responsible way. There are plenty of hands-on activities for adults and children to learn more about the mammal. There is even a hurricane simulator you can hop into if you are already having a bad hair day.
The butterfly gardens and Florida-friendly landscaping are easy on the eyes and the largest installation of solar panels in Tampa line the property. There is also a tide walk that allows you to experience native and coastal plant life as well as view the manatees.
The best part? It’s FREE. And parking? That’s FREE too.