Manatee Lagoon – An FPL Eco-Discovery Center in West Palm Beach

Florida, USA
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During a visit to Palm Beach County, you can’t afford to not stop at the Manatee Lagoon. Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows. In the wintertime, these mammals migrate south into warmer waters as they can’t survive in waters below 15 °C (60 °F). South Florida offers many places where the water is warm enough for these creatures to overwinter. A very attractive spot for these mammals became the warm-water outflows of coastal power plants. There is such a power plant just north of West Palm Beach. It’s Florida Power & Light Company’s (FPL) Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center.

Power Plant History

The Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center started serving customers in the spring of 2014. This power plant runs on cleaner and more affordable U.S.-produced natural gas. Before this plant was constructed here, a 1960s-era oil-and-gas-fired plant was situated here. It got demolished in 2011 to make space for the new plant.

Part of the modernization project was that FPL provides a Manatee viewing area. Therefore the Manatee Lagoon Eco-Discovery Center was constructed.

Manatee Lagoon Eco-Discovery Center

The Discovery Center opened in February of 2016, about two years after the power plant went online. When I first read Manatee Lagoon, I thought it would be kind of a lagoon with easy access to watch manatees. In reality, the “lagoon” part is the outflow of the power plant which is accompanied by a Key West-architecturally styled visitor center.  Maybe it’s also because both, the power plant and discovery center are located on the Lake Worth Lagoon, which is part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The main season to watch manatees is during the wintertime/manatee season (November 15th  – March 31st). That’s when it’s almost guaranteed that you will see manatees in the warm-water runoff of the power plant next door.

The discovery center is open throughout the year to educate about manatees and the Lake Worth Lagoon. It is a great place to bring young kids and educate them. The visitor center offers many programs for kids. Besides that, there are also adult yoga classes. Yes, they also have kids yoga classes.

The discovery center just offers a bunch of activities for all ages. Just check out their website for more information. Free Wi-Fi is offered throughout the venue for all visitors.

If you can manage it, I would highly recommend to sing up for one of their tours. They require advanced registration, mainly during manatee season, but its absolutely worth it. If you can’t make it to one of their tours, just drop in during their regular business hours and enjoy the place. Take a stroll along the waterfront or hang out at the picnic area with shaded solar pavilions.

Manatee Lagoon – Eco-Discovery Center

Admission and parking to the Eco-Discovery Center are free. There is plenty of parking available onsite. If you can’t find any parking in front of the building, don’t worry. There is additional parking just around the corner. Follow the one-way street to find them. Of course, there is a charging station for electric vehicles here.

Site-Map and Parking (Courtesy of Manatee Lagoon)

Make sure you also check out the second floor of the discovery center to see one of their featured exhibits. This part could be closed if there are any private events at the discovery center. The discovery center is available to be booked as a meeting venue, just in case you are interested.

How do you exit buildings in Florida? Yes, through the gift shop. The Manatee Lagoon Discovery Center also has a well-stocked gift shop, which you will pass by/through while entering or exiting.

Manatee Viewing

As mentioned earlier, the best chances to see manatees are during manatee season which humans also call winter. The best viewing spot is the observation deck behind the discovery center building or from the second-floor terrace of the discovery center. Both offer great views of the power plant’s outflow where the manatees hang out. You can always check out their Manatee Cam to see what’s going on.

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