By Kevin Mims
Manatees roam the waters of Florida from April through October -- but when things get a bit chilly, they head to places like freshwater Florida Springs, where the temperatures remain constant throughout the year.
It may not seem warm when you jump into a freshwater spring, but the water temperatures remain around 70 degrees, which is perfect for manatees in Florida who need that kind of warmth to survive.
Ready to see some manatees in Florida? Here are several great places to check out:
Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River
If you haven't been to Three Sisters Springs, you're missing out. It's a year-round favorite of mine, and in the winter, manatees come in huge numbers. Kayak or take a boat tour to the springs. I've counted more than 100 manatees in the area at one time. With a concentration of Florida manatees like this, you can imagine that there's also a large concentration of people. Remember, be respectful and observe from a distance. Just down the road in Homosassa Springs, it's a little less crowded, with a number of tours, including Blue Heaven River Tours, to get you up close to the charming sea cows.
Blue Spring State Park, Orange City
Blue Spring State Park gets my vote for the best "no boat needed" manatee viewing location. During manatee season, the spring run is closed -- but there are several overlooks and boardwalks along the way. Make a day of exploring the park and watching the manatees. Bring your camera because there are great pictures to be taken and memories to be made.
TECO Manatee Viewing Center, Apollo Beach
Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center is a designated manatee sanctuary to which large numbers of manatees in Florida return annually to the warm discharge waters of the Big Bend Power Station. Viewing platforms, tidal walkways, and an environmental education center are located at this 50-acre facility.
Lee County Manatee Park, Fort Myers
Located across from Florida Power and Light and directly on the warm water discharge canal, Manatee Park is another wintertime haven where large concentrations of Florida manatees can be seen. Several viewing areas, a butterfly garden, and picnic shelters are available.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville
The Haulover Canal connects Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River, and on the east side of the bridge is a manatee observation area. Viewing platforms, interpretive signs, a boat ramp, and a polarized viewer are located at the observation area.
Manatee Lagoon – An FPL Eco-Discovery Center®, Riviera Beach
Manatee Lagoon is a free Palm Beach County educational attraction with a dedicated area for viewing manatees up close. The waterfront center features engaging, hands-on exhibits for visitors to learn all about these threatened and unique gentle giants as well as the natural wonders of the surrounding Lake Worth Lagoon. On cold winter days, the facility’s observation deck is the ideal spot to view manatee herds basking in the warm-water outflows from Florida Power & Light Company’s adjacent Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center.
The Boat Basin at The Deering Estate, Miami
The boat basin fronting the Deering Estate on Biscayne Bay is a great place in Miami to see manatees. The supply of fresh water combined with the calm nature of the bay allow manatees to congregate and mate here. You may also see sea sharks, turtles, rays, and even dolphins. But take looks only - the marine life in the waters here are fragile so no watercraft of any kind are allowed.
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