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.

Tropicana Field Stingrays Find New Winter Home

 

The stingrays from Tropicana Field are making the Manatee Viewing Center their winter home.

Tampa Electric built a stingray touch tank at the Manatee Viewing Center, which is open from Nov. 1 through April 15. The stingrays will be in the Manatee Viewing Center for about four months. After winter, half of them will return to the Tropicana Field, while the others will stay in the center.

Steven Clemmer, who has worked at The Florida Aquarium for five years, emphasized the importance of kids playing and enjoy nature in a natural environment.

“Many children are afraid of touching the stingrays at the beginning,” Clemmer said. “However after they see us touching them, they feel more comfortable. It is kids’ natural curiosity to want to learn and try new things, even more so in a friendly environment.”

They are expecting over 5 million nature lovers this year, many of them children. The Florida Aquarium staff members are in charge of teaching about these animals.

“We have a lot of school groups that come here and it’s a cool thing because most of them don’t know this is here,” Clemmer said. “So, it is a good surprise whenever school groups do come because they get that hands on experience touching the rays. All our volunteers and staff members are qualified and knowledgeable.”

For more information visit tampaelectric.com/company/mvc 

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.

San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival & Run

The 50th annual San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival & Run took place over the weekend in San Antonio.

There were many different activities, games and events for attendees to enjoy. Some of these events included shows like Cowboy Tom’s Wild West Show and the Croc Encounters demonstration. Rock climbing, corn hole tournaments and wooden gopher tortoise races were open both days, while the Rattlesnake Run only occurred on Saturday.

Children and their parents were both able to take pleasure in the festival. One child in particular was quick to express his favorite part.

“Well the first thing we’ve done,” Owen said, “we got loads of candy!”

The Croc Encounters show drew an exceptionally large audience. The crew brought four large alligators that were between seven and eight feet in length, one medium sized alligator and two small alligators.

“Croc Encounters is an animal rescue,” said John Paner, manager. “We do educational programs with the animals, we take them to events, we do shows with the animals, we do traveling exhibits.”

Another popular attraction was the pumpkin patch, where families were taking advantage of the great photo opportunities. One local resident spending time in the pumpkin patch was excited to bring her children to the festival again.

“We actually haven’t been for a few years,” Sarah said, “because my son was playing football so we kind of always had a football game, but this is our first time back in quite a few years.”

Over the two days it was open, the festival brought in a great number of people. As of now, it is planned to be held again next fall.

Kayaks Allow for Interaction with Wildlife on Weeki Wachee River

The Kayak Shack is a small business that is located on the Weeki Wachee river. Visitors from all over the world come to The Kayak Shack to visit the crystal clear spring. One can rent kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards seven days a week from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

The Kayak Shack has been operating since 2009. Owners Jonathon and Amber Cone have been running this small business since its inception.

“[When] we started out we weren’t running our shuttles to the top of the river.” said Jonathon Cone. “It was mainly beach people coming over from Rogers Park to rent kayaks here; they would do it hourly…and started out with 16 boats and absolutely…this entire area has gotten extremely popular; …each summer it’s busier and busier; spring break and even the winters are…starting to pick up.”

Now, they have two transportation buses and over 30 kayaks to rent out.

Once you’ve rented one of their boats, they transport you to the top of the river. Then, paddle about five miles back to The Kayak Shack where your car is parked.

While paddling along the river one may many fish, birds, and perhaps even a manatee.

“We see manatees to the point where you’re kinda used to those, even though they are really cool,” said employee Jason Burry.

You can also go swimming in the nearly constant 72-degree water, jump out of trees or swing on a rope swing.

Visit their website or call and make a reservation in order to schedule a rental.

website: www.weekiwacheekayakrental.com
phone: (352) 610-4169

A Factory’s Support For The Children

A Factory’s support for the Children

Pam and Tom Cronin, owners of the Shell Factory, spent years renovating and redesigning the park with families in mind- especially the kids. Field trips to the park are welcomed, and the Cronin’s are willing to help teachers overcome any obstacles to make the trips possible for the students.  

“When Lee county stopped supplying school buses for the kids for field trips, Tom and Pam Cronin decided they would do it. So we pay for all the kids to come here,” Anne Sheridan, the Shell Factory general manager, said.

During these sponsored field trips, students get to experience nature up close in the Nature Park. According to the website, the Nature Park includes over 400 wild animals; aviaries filled with different types of birds, tortoises, turtles and iguanas; an Eco Lab for exotic snakes and more. Gator biscuits are also available for visitors to toss out to the alligators that live within the park.

Our Nature Park Environmental Education Foundation has raised capital sufficient to fund field trips for over four thousand school children who otherwise would have been unable to visit the attraction,” The Cronins said on their website.

The park, however, is still growing and changing every year.

“As a work in progress the Nature Park is always expanding, improving, and acquiring new inhabitants,” according to the Shell Factory’s website.

Pam and Tom also host special events outside of school functions on the property. Weddings and corporate meetings can utilized one of two special rooms in the park- the Dolphin room and the Party Room- as well as birthday parties or other celebrations.

The factory was voted best shell store by North Fort Myers in both 2014 and 2015. Years in the making, the Shell Factory has become one of the best places in South Florida for locals and tourists alike.

shell

Photo courtesy of flickr.com