Clearwater Marine Aquarium Plans to Turn Former Winter Habitat into New Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Center | Travel & Leisure | Tampa

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Richard Howard/oceanofimages.com via CMA

Last year, more than 1,000 manatees died in Florida, setting a grim record in state history. So far in 2022, more than 450 people have been found dead from various causes.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) is joining the state’s efforts to stem the rise in manatee deaths by creating a three-phase plan this includes opening more rehabilitation pools and possibly a new manatee hospital.

“What happened on the east coast of Florida last year and this year is a result of the runoff of nutrients into the Indian River Lagoon, making it an ideal situation for the proliferation of algae,” said CMA’s Dr. James “Buddy” Powell.

Powell explained that these algal blooms reduce water clarity and cut sunlight on growing sea grasses, which die as a result. Seagrasses are the main food source for manatees. So when the manatees came to these warmer waters during the winter months, there was little or no food and many were starving.

While the manatee survival plan is a direct response to the Unusual Marine Mammal Mortality Event (UME), the aquarium’s Dr. James “Buddy” Powell also stresses the importance of continuing the legacy of the Winter Dolphin. .

“Winter was a wonderful ambassador,” Powell said of the ‘Dolphin Tale’ star who inspired millions before he died aged 16 late last year. “She was saved herself. What better way to pay homage to Winter and her legacy…to use that goodwill and all that she has brought to Clearwater and Clearwater Marine Aquarium to do more for the rescue and rehabilitation of other animals.

Winter passed away on November 11, 2021 and was loved in Clearwater, Florida and around the world for her inspiring rescue story that saw her thrive after losing her tail.

During her 16 years at the aquarium, Winter has been an ambassador for people with disabilities and diverse membership as well as for marine mammal education and conservation. Winter was the face of the aquarium and helped expand the facility’s rescue, rehabilitation and conservation efforts.

“What a wonderful legacy for Winter for providing us with who we are now and the opportunity to be able to do something like this,” Powell said. “It builds on Winter’s foundation and legacy…and we’re just doing more and inspiring and educating people along the way.”

The aquarium plan to help manatees includes three phases. The first is to work with the City of Clearwater to open a temporary emergency rehabilitation pool at the aquarium to provide more “bed space” for manatees in need of care.

“We are delighted to be working with Clearwater Marine Aquarium to help them add a rehabilitation pool to their facility. They have always been on a mission to save, rehabilitate and ultimately release marine life and now they need to focus these areas more on our local manatees,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in an email to Creative Loafing Tampa. Bay. “Sadly Florida’s manatees are suffering in record numbers and last year alone we had 1,000 manatee deaths. As a community, we must do what we can to rehabilitate and free this iconic yet vulnerable Florida species. . »

The second phase involves working with the City of Tarpon Springs to expand rehabilitation efforts at Fred Howard Park by opening three manatee tanks at the Marine Mammal Stranding Rehabilitation Center. The aquarium hopes to open these pools within the next year, and a $3 million funding request has already been sent to the Florida State Legislature.

The City of Tarpon Springs said the aquarium recently submitted permitting plans and “looks forward to working with them through the permitting process.”

Click to enlarge The second phase of CMA's Manatee Rehabilitation and Rescue effort is working with the City of Tarpon Springs to expand rehabilitation efforts at Fred Howard Park by opening three manatee pools.  - A/S CMA

c/o CMA

The second phase of CMA’s Manatee Rehabilitation and Rescue effort is working with the City of Tarpon Springs to expand rehabilitation efforts at Fred Howard Park by opening three manatee pools.

The third phase is the most intensive but the one which, according to Powell, is “essential” to the mission of the aquarium. CMA is currently fundraising to build a new $10 million manatee hospital in the former home of Winter the Dolphin.

According to a statement from the aquarium, the project will be a “critical care facility capable of accepting the continued influx of manatees affected by habitat loss, red tide, boat injuries, stress syndrome due to cold and abandoned sea cows”.

“It will become a bigger plan, a master plan, to create habitat for manatees,” Powell said. “The old winter zone can be modified; it is perfectly suitable for manatee housing and manatee rehabilitation. It’s also an opportunity… it’s integrated into an educational package.

With the current manatee mortality crisis not expected to end any time soon, the CMA isn’t the only facility stepping up its efforts to help the state of Florida’s marine mammal.

SeaWorld has also set up emergency pools and works alongside the CMA, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Manatee Rescue Rehabilitation Partnership. The Georgia Aquarium also stepped in in mid-March to announce its joining the partnership to help care for two orphaned young manatees.

For those who want to help manatees in the Tampa Bay area and around the state, Powell suggests simple things like slowing down boats and being more careful when using lawn fertilizer — or “zero- scaping” and avoid any fertilizer that could make its way into waterways through rain runoff.

He also advised to be aware of and support local and national legislation that attempts to reduce the amount of these pollutants entering our natural water systems.

“With all these manatees dying…it’s brought international, national and local awareness,” Powell said. “People say ‘oh the manatees are like the canary in the coal mine, the big gray canary.’ But that’s not true. The moment that big gray canary dies, everything else is gone.

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