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Posted at: Apr 30, 2017, 12:56 AM; last updated: Apr 30, 2017, 12:56 AM (IST)

A power full view

A city’s power generation unit also doubles up as a sanctuary for a threatened mammal species. Sounds far-fetched? Not really. Tampa Electric Company is a manatee viewing centre as well

Rashmi Gopal Rao

Established way back in 1899, the Tampa Electric Company has been responsible for supplying electricity to the Tampa Bay area in Florida, USA. With a whopping customer base of about 7,25,000, the company has been producing power from renewable resources since 2000. One of the company’s power plants called the Big Bend power station has four coal-fired units and is located in the Apollo Beach.

It is Unit 4 of this station where all manatee action can be found. When the unit started commercial operations in 1986, people began spotting a number of manatees in the power station’s discharge canal. The water in the canal is much warmer than the surroundings due to the fact that saltwater from Tampa Bay that is used to cool the unit is cleaned and recycled back here. The warm water is a haven for the manatees that find it hard to survive in the cold environment. Hence, it is no surprise that when the temperatures in the region drop to 20º C and below, the number of these gentle mammals in the canal multiply manifold. The canal has, therefore, been designated by the state as a manatee sanctuary since then.

More often, growing over 10 feet and weighing more than 500 kg, these sea cows  are herbivorous, marine mammals. Also referred to as sea cows, these peace-loving creatures have been hunted in their past for their meat, hide and bones making them a threatened species. The viewing centre located in Apollo beach is a great way to catch a glimpse these rare mammals. The 50-acre facility has specially designated viewing platforms, an interactive education centre and also a tidal walkway.

As the manatees move about in the water, one can watch one or more parts of their body. For instance, manatees rise to the surface of the water every seven to 20 minutes to breathe, so one can hear a ‘rushing’ noise in the water at that time, and also catch a glimpse of their snouts. On clear days, you can also see the backs of these mammals that appear as oval rocks just below the water surface. Keep a watch for half moon swirls in the water as well as their flippers and tails to spot the manatees.

The education centre is a highly insightful place for adults and children alike with colourful displays of the manatee anatomy, physiology, behavioural patterns, etc. It also has information about the natural vegetation, including the mangroves of Florida. The complex also houses a nature trail leading to an observation tower where one can witness the native flora and fauna in abundance. The 50-foot tower offers some stunning views of the estuary and the surrounding area. As part of the centre’s 30th anniversary, there is a new ray fish tank where children can actually touch these fish from the surface of the tank.

All in all, the centre is not only an educative yet fun-filled place but also one that demonstrates Tampa Electric’s commendable sense of social responsibility with unparalleled commitment to the protection of the manatees and the environment.


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