Who would have ever thought that in order to see colorful waterfowl, dozens of varieties of marine life, and half-ton animals from the endangered species list -- all in the wild -- the best place to go would be right next to the building pictured above?
Actually, plenty of Floridians know that power plants create incidental wildlife sanctuaries during the winter months, but it’s a safe bet that very few tourists are aware of this. Therefore, millions of people who travel to the
The lynchpin in this whole phenomenon is the manatee: an aquatic mammal that bears a passing resemblance to the walrus and is a distant relative of the elephant. Manatees are about 10 feet long, weigh up to 1,300 pounds, and live in both the coastal and inland waters of Florida. Below is a pair that I photographed, but if you want to see a picture of one underwater, go here.
Manatees live in several areas of the earth, of which
To cool their generating units, power plants take water in from rivers and bays and then discharge it into canals, where it flows back to wherever it came from. Having gone through the plant, water in these canals is warmer than the water in its original source, and manatees have figured out that the canals are an ideal place to hang out when the Northern Hemisphere tips away from the sun.
TECO Energy’s Big Bend Power Station is located in
In the quarter century since then, additions have been made and the platform has evolved into what is now called The Manatee Center. It includes a butterfly garden, environmental education building, and gift shop. It also includes a concession stand and picnic tables:
And it includes The Tidal Walk: a 900-foot walkway along the canal’s southern edge. Elevated for its entire route, the walk passes through a strip of mangrove forest then travels by unobstructed water and finally ends on a dock looking toward the openness of
As for the manatees themselves, they are numerous and a treat to observe. Erika, Sarah, and I have been here many times and their numbers have always been in the scores. It has been reported that more than 300 have been counted in the canal at a single time.
Unfortunately, the fact that manatees are in the water and you are not means it is difficult to get good pictures of them. Nevertheless, this shot of a calf nursing from its mother (the teat is near the flipper) is one I will always remember:
If you are going to be in the
Go here for driving directions.