The Florida Aquarium, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Tampa Electric announced a partnership today to create a Florida conservation and technology park.
The park, which will be built near Tampa Electric’s existing Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, will serve as a nexus for recreation, learning and conservation as well as research and technology. Admission and parking will be free.
“It is an honor to be a part of this amazing project," said Thom Stork, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium. “This innovative park will not only assist us in the day-to-day operations of the aquarium but will help expand our marine life education, rescue and research footprint throughout our community and the state.”
In addition to the Manatee Viewing Center, which currently welcomes more than 200,000 visitors per year, some of the highlights of the park will include:
A Energy Technology Center featuring outdoor exhibits demonstrating state-of-the-art energy technologies. As visitors tour the site, they will learn about renewable energy alternatives that are reliable, environmentally responsible and potentially viable for the Florida energy market.
A Center for Conservation, jointly managed by The Florida Aquarium and FWC, engaging and educating visitors about the vital connections between Florida’s waters, plants and fishes. Highlighting the aquarium’s conservation, education and animal rescue programs as well as FWC’s Fisheries and Youth Conservation education programs, the center will show how these contribute to preserving Florida’s animals and ecosystems.
A Camps and Educational Facility, as part of the Center for Conservation, providing unique learning experiences that immerse students of all grade levels in hands-on exploration of Florida’s natural environment.
An Animal Rescue, Research and Holding Facility, staffed and managed by The Florida Aquarium, providing much-needed additional animal holding capacity to maintain its exhibits. The space also will house critical programs that help preserve threatened and endangered species and ecosystems. The facility will feature the aquarium’s rescue and rehabilitation programs for endangered species, such as sea turtles and river otters, and new research facilities for the aquarium’s research initiatives, such as the coral reef restoration project.
The Saltwater Fish Hatchery, operated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a part of their Florida Marine Fisheries Enhancement Initiative. The hatchery will incorporate new energy-efficient technology to raise sportfish for stocking Florida waters. The Center for Conservation will integrate the hatchery into on-site tours to share with visitors the important contributions of Florida’s rich sport-fishing industry.
Interpretive trails will include both walking and canoe/kayak trails throughout the park that will allow visitors to immerse themselves in fascinating and diverse Florida environments. After kayaking through mangrove forests, visitors can tackle a physically challenging Treetop Interpretative Trail and elevated viewing platform to observe and photograph native birds.
Catch and Release Fishing Programs will be conducted at the park for all ages. Fishing clinics, fishing for families and fishing camps will foster an appreciation of the great outdoors, Florida’s natural bounty and individual responsibility for stewardship.
“FWC is committed to fostering the next generation that cares by implementing statewide programs that encourage our young people to become active outdoor enthusiasts," said Commissioner Richard Corbett of Tampa. "Support from private landowners is critical to this effort, and I commend TECO for its role in helping to establish this important partnership which, combined with the world-class educational programming experience of The Florida Aquarium, will make for an outstanding success.”
While the details of the park are still in the conceptual phase, the partnership’s vision is focused on demonstrating the potential for technology and nature to work together harmoniously for the greater good of the community and the state.
“This park will complement Tampa Electric’s award-winning Manatee Viewing Center and Newman Branch Creek restoration projects, which are adjacent to the property,” said Tom Hernandez, Tampa Electric’s vice president of energy supply. “This unique blend of environmental education and cutting-edge energy technology will become a year-round destination for Florida visitors and become a showcase of Tampa Electric’s continued commitment to the environment.”