For more than a decade, the manatees that spend the winter clustered in the relatively warm water coming out of the Florida Power and Light power plant in Palm Beach County have had their privacy. Sure, the occasional FPL employe or teenaged trespasser might have been able to take a peek at what they’re doing, but the public at large has been kept out by chain link fences and signs.
Manatees, AKA sea cows, are those chubby mammals that hang out in the water, and the warmer the water the better. In the winter in Florida, as water temperatures fall, they seek warm places, such as the water discharge areas of power plants. They are classified as ‘endangered’ by federal wildlife officials, who recently announced plans to reclassify them to the less serious status of “threatened.”
The discharge canal at the FPL plant in Riviera Beach has been a popular spot for decades for both the manatees and their human viewers. It was a great place to take out-of-town visitors.
But public access to the ‘cooling canal’ (a three-sided concrete enclosure, with the fourth side open so they could come and go into the intercoastal waterway—Lake Worth Lagoon—as they pleased) was closed after 9/11 for security reasons. Our anti-terrorist measures sure were quaint back then, weren’t they?
All that will change February 6, when FPL opens Manatee Lagoon, a nice, two-story building with ample parking, complete with viewing platforms on both floors, meeting and events space, educational exhibits, a gift shop and a cafe.
And, of course, a Manatee Cam.
Goodby privacy, hello world!
I was there last week for a meeting of the Lake Worth Lagoon Initiative Public Outreach Working Group (I attend to represent the Sierra Club when I am in town). Construction was still going on, as you can see in the photos.
The Visit Florida website lists ‘five great places’ to see manatees. The closest is nearly three hours away from West Palm Beach, so I’m happy to see this place finally finished and opening.
Short of stuffing the tourists into a canoe or kayak and going where one is only likely to see one, there is no place nearby one can count on for a good manatee viewing experience. And captive viewers are easy targets for educational attempts. They just troop along and read the exhibits. The Manatee Lagoon is set up is nice for this, as visitors are gently forced to wind their way through the exhibits to get to the viewing areas.
Below is the Cousteau quote that greets visitors and a few of the display panels.