Florida Power & Light Co. executives and community leaders rolled up their sleeves, donned hardhats and wielded shovels to break ground Dec. 11 on a manatee education center that will raise awareness about the status of this beloved species for generations to come.
The new facility will sit beside FPL’s new Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center on the Lake Worth Lagoon, where manatees have long gathered to keep warm during the winter.
“Our new, cleaner, more fuel-efficient Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center not only provides FPL customers with electric power that keeps rates low and well under the national average, its operations and location create a special opportunity to help protect this endangered treasure that calls Florida’s waters home,” said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL.
Manatees have come to depend on the warm water flowing out of this facility during the winter season, Silagy said.
“They can’t speak for themselves to let us know what it takes to protect them, so we will help tell that important story by building a dynamic education center that engages audiences and explains the role power plants play in ensuring sea cows are part of Florida’s future,” he explained.
FPL has a decades-long history of supporting manatee research at its coastal facilities that attract manatees, including those at Cape Canaveral and Port Everglades. The company has sponsored tagging programs, monitoring and aerial surveys, and shared information with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help assess the health of manatee herds.
Manatees instinctively follow a migratory pattern that brings them back to areas of Florida where they frequent warm-water springs, refuges and the warm-water outflows that are a byproduct of operations by coastal plants such as FPL’s Riviera Beach Energy Center for survival.
Manatee viewing at the new facility will be best when conditions are just right — sustained cold water temperatures over several days (68 degrees or less), ingoing and outgoing tides that impact lagoon water temperatures, and the availability of nearby food sources.
“The construction of this manatee center is a positive step in recognizing how important it is to constantly improve on and support our area’s educational, cultural and visitor amenities, one valued community asset at a time,” said Judy Davis, chair of the Riviera Beach City Council.
FPL’s center will be the only facility of its kind throughout its 35-county service territory. The attraction will showcase manatees and other species that inhabit the Lake Worth Lagoon. The Key West-style, two-story, 16,000-square-foot center will feature a manatee viewing area, exhibit space, interactive displays, a pavilion, picnic areas, a gift shop and classrooms. Admission will be free. A newly repositioned manatee webcam is an added feature that will broadcast live images that show when manatees swim nearby.
ABOVE: FPL President & CEO Eric Silagy at the groundbreaking for the FPL Manatee Education Center.