Tampa Bay’s Best: The Florida Aquarium

Florida Aquarium employee Eric Hovland and guest Angela Moody share a passion for marine life and the environment in which they live.

Hovland has seen The Florida Aquarium blossom into the popular Tampa attraction that it is today.

“I’ve worked here at The Florida Aquarium for going on 22 years in May and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Hovland said. “Seeing the facility grow over the years and being able to work with all of the diverse species of marine life on a daily basis has been a dream come true for me.”

Located in downtown Tampa, right next to Port Tampa Bay, The Florida Aquarium offers its patrons a unique experience that is unlike any other aquarium in the United States.

“I had no idea until I got here that you could dive with sharks at this aquarium,” Moody said. “I’ve never heard of anything like that at any other aquarium I’ve ever been to.”

The Florida Aquarium was the first aquarium in the nation to offer an uncaged dive with sharks experience.

“We have the sand tiger sharks and all of our diverse fish that you can get to know,” Hovland said. “Learning about sharks can really accelerate when you can see sharks being sharks.”

People from all over the world travel to Tampa, which in turn brings many diverse people and cultures to The Florida Aquarium.

“Whether they’re getting off a cruise ship and stopping in for a visit, we really do get a diversity of the world’s culture,” Hovland said. “It’s nice to see our impact reaches much further than just the Tampa Bay area.”

For more information, please visit flaquarium.org

Manatee Viewing Center Expects Bigger Crowds In 30th Year

 

Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center employee’s Jamie Woodlee and Bob Rast both share a common passion for the protection of Florida manatees.

Woodlee has worked for TECO’s Manatee Viewing Center for more than 30 years and has seen the facility grow into what it is today.

“I’ve actually been with Tampa Electric for 30 years, and started right away in their environmental department,” Woodlee said. “It’s just been an amazing experience being able to see how far we’ve come since I first started here.”

Located off of Dickman Road in Apollo Beach Florida, the TECO Manatee Viewing Center offers guests an up close and personal view of manatees in their natural habitat. According to tampaelectric.com, Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach delivered reliable electricity to the community for 16 years before the commercial operation of Big Bend Unit 4 in 1986. It was that year where people first took notice of manatees arriving in large numbers in the power station’s discharge canal.

“We get visitors from all over the world,” Woodlee said. “We get anywhere from 150,000 to over 300,000 visitors in over five-in-a half months.”

The Manatee Viewing Center’s mission is to educate the public about the Florida manatee and its habitat. The center is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary, which has interactive exhibits and staff members educating visitors of all ages about the life cycle of the manatee and the challenges it faces.

Rast said when the waters of Tampa Bay reaches 68 degrees or colder, the manatees would seek refuge in the Apollo Beach area.

“They are a unique creature,” Rast said. “When the weather gets chilly and the manatees get cold stressed, they come here to get warm and recharge their batteries so to speak.”

Rast has worked for the TECO Manatee Viewing Center for over 16 years and has extensive expertise on manatees in the area.

With tourists and locals flocking in from November 1 until April 15, the Manatee Viewing Center is ready for another year of big crowds.

“We are this quiet little gem of a place that is really starting to get out there,” Woodlee said.

USF Riverfront Park Offers Relaxing Escape For Students

Bonnie Buchanan, a student employee at USF Riverfront Park, and Olivia Parrillo, a Riverfront Park visitor and fellow USF student, both love the outdoors.

The students frequently visit Riverfront Park either to work, relax or enjoy the outdoors when they have time off school.

“It’s good for people to come out here and get in touch with nature and not be staring at their phones the whole time,” Buchanan said. “It’s just a really good way for students to enjoy what Florida’s wildlife has to offer.”

Riverfront Park is located in Tampa, close to a mile from USF’s Tampa campus. The park offers canoeing and kayaking rentals, as well as many other outdoor activities.

“I definitely would recommend it, it’s worth every penny, especially when you are on a college budget,” Parrillo said. “It’s worth the $10 for either two people or three people in a canoe or kayak.”

Riverfront Park is also home to a vast array of Florida wildlife.

“A big variety of wildlife, we definitely see a lot of alligators in the river and on the bank,” Buchanan said. “Definitely a lot of bird watching, different kinds of egrets.”

Buchanan has been a Riverfront Park employee for six months and graduates in the spring of 2017.

“My favorite thing about working at Riverfront Park is teaching the ropes course and seeing people face their fear of heights,” Buchanan said. “It sure beats sitting behind a desk all day.”

Riverfront Park is open Monday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Local Junior College Begining to Make its Mark

Led by recruiting coordinator Antonio Nelson and starting quarterback Brandon Conner, the Gattaca Junior College football program, a local Tampa Bay junior college, is making a name for itself.

Entering only its third season of football, GJC is striving to not only win games on the field, but develop the character of its players off the field as well.

“How to treat people, uh, be respectable, yes sir no sir,” Nelson said. “Just become a better young man overall.”

Located in Tampa, GJC offers full-time college credit classes online as well as in person at Hillsborough Community College campuses.

“That’s not only on the field, its off the field,” Conner said. “it taught me a lot, honestly like, but being a man is number one you know it’s time to step into the real world.”

As the recruiting coordinator, Nelson has the responsibility of bringing talented young men to the program. One of the main recruiting tools that GJC uses to keep in touch with recruits is the use of social media.

“Right now our biggest hit is Facebook,” Nelson said. “We get a lot of kids from the Facebook page.”

Although being a Florida-based program, GJC still travels all over the east coast to play other junior college opponents.

“We travel all over,” Nelson said. “We travel to Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.”

Gattaca started its program in August 2013 and will travel to Kentucky this season for the first time in school history.