CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Clearwater Marine Aquarium is adding manatee rehabilitation center to its efforts. It comes at a time of need as manatee deaths reach an all-time yearly high in Florida.
“Manatees are a federally threatened species and so every animal that we can put back into the wild and into the breeding population is important,” said Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, Executive Director for Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s Research Institute.
Approximately 850 manatees have died in Florida so far this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That’s 20 more deaths than the previous record of 830 set in 2013.
Dr. Powell tells 8 On Your Side the current issues facing the manatee population is driving Clearwater Marine Aquarium to get the manatee rehab center up and running as quickly as possible.
“We have this unfortunate perfect storm going on,” added Dr. Powell.
On Florida’s east coast, manatee mortalities are higher than ever, with many dying from starvation due to dying seagrass. To make matters worse, the red tide crisis in Tampa Bay is raising new health concerns for these mammals, plus boating collisions are still problems as well.
As their population dwindles, there are growing calls to help save the manatees, but the combined issues are causing capacity shortages in manatee rehab centers across the United States.
“This will help to open up space at some of the other facilities and increase capacity around the state,” said Dr. Powell.
Right now, Clearwater Marine Aquarium’ is looking to turn their offsite rehab facility at Fred Howard Park into the manatee rehab facility. The facility currently features a 40-foot-round pool that could hold around six manatees. CMA is looking to refurbish the existing pool and hopefully add more in the future.
“Adding more pools in conjunction with what we have will allow us to take in more animals, “said Kelly Martin, Director of Animal Care at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
They are hoping to have refurbishments completed by this upcoming winter season, so they can start taking in manatees immediately.