Every year, when the temperature of the water surrounding Tampa Bay's Big Bend power plant rises above 68 degrees Fahrenheit because of the heated waste water leaving the discharge canal, manatees, otherwise known as the cows of the sea, gather around a special viewing area for tourists.
There are observation platforms and a nature walk through the mangroves and shallows leading out to the discharge canal. Many types of birds and sea creatures are often seen, including stingrays, pelicans, and cranes. A special butterfly garden draws additional visitors.
Across the canal is a unobstructed view of the Power Station and its four smoking stacks, the huge industrially impressive site offering a strange but enjoyable counterpoint to the humble, lumpy manatees which gather around it.
The Manatee Viewing Center offers free parking and admission for its guests. Any donations you choose to make to the center are greatly appreciated and go directly toward the purchase and maintenance of educational exhibits and publications that can help teach more visitors about the manatee and the many animals and plants that share its habitat, according to the center's official website.