West Palm Beach, Fla. – The air was filled with excited whispers and gasps as enthusiastic visitors huddled shoulder to shoulder along the observation deck surrounding Florida Power & Light Company’s (FPL) Manatee Lagoon Eco-Discovery Center. The clean, warm water outflows of FPL’s Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center serve as a magnet for manatees during the cooler months.
‘Ooos’ and ‘Ahhs’ echoed as many marveled at the sight of these gentle giants gathering amongst dozens of brightly colored fish.
“Look! They’re swimming around,” exclaimed 6-year-old Kai Moore while pointing at a manatee.
The water rippled with bubbles as a manatee’s nose popped up for air. Kai looked up at his father, Keith Moore, and giggled.
“Our first time seeing a manatee in the wild,” Keith Moore, who brought his three sons down from New York, said with a smile.
This is just one of the many families gathered at the center this time of year during manatee season for a chance to see these gentle giants up close.
“I’m usually working behind the scenes, but I love days when I get to walk outside and watch people marvel at the manatees – especially on a busy day,” said FPL Conservation Liaison and Education Manager Rachel Shanker.
For her, this place feels like a second home. Growing up in West Palm Beach, Shanker could always be found roaming in nature or near the water, but her appreciation for all the different ecosystems in Florida has only grown stronger over the years.
“It hardly feels like work when I get to wake up and do what I love every single day,” Shanker shared.
For the last eight years, Shanker has grown with Manatee Lagoon as she works to inspire communities to preserve and protect Florida’s environment and wildlife for future generations.
“Here at Manatee Lagoon, we’re always on the lookout for any sick or injured manatees that may need help,” said Shanker. “If we see one, we call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission . In that case, I will likely assist in that rescue.”
While boat strikes have historically been the leading cause of human-related mortality in manatees, now they’re facing a loss of seagrass, which is their main food source. Shanker feels it’s more important to help the manatee population now than ever before.
“It’s really heartwarming to see a manatee be rescued, successfully rehabilitated and then to be able to release that same individual back into the wild from where it came,” Shanker said with a smile.
FPL constructed Manatee Lagoon as part of its environmental mission to educate the public about the relationship it has with these wonderful creatures. For decades, manatees have been attracted to the clean, warm water discharges of FPL’s energy center, following a watery travel route that manatee mothers have taught their calves.
The best opportunity to see these gentle giants at Manatee Lagoon is during manatee season, which runs through March 31, when local water temperatures may drop below 68 degrees.
Manatee Lagoon also has a live underwater manatee cam that streams throughout the day. You can find the link here: https://www.visitmanateelagoon.com/manatee-cam