Over the years, we’ve stepped up to help an iconic Florida species: the manatee. Zoo volunteers have helped the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) during manatee rescues, releases and necropsies for the past 6 years. In 2021, we raised money to establish and equip an expanded group of these volunteers to better help FWC.
Now, we plan to expand our efforts by building manatee rehabilitation facilities at our Zoo! This rehabilitation center is made possible by a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Brevard County is at the epicenter of a historic wave of manatee deaths in recent years, largely due to environmental issues affecting seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon. Since 2011, this biodiverse estuary has experienced countless algal blooms that have resulted in a significant loss of seagrass habitat, a critical food source for lagoon-dwelling manatees. As a result, manatees in our area are dying of starvation at a record rate, leading FWC to declare an Unusual Mortality Event in March 2021.
Our manatee rehabilitation center would be the first in our County. We hope to provide immediate care to manatees in our County as well as expand “bed space” at other facilities in our State. We’re also building a seagrass nursery to begin restoring this critical resource to the lagoon.
We recently received permitting, grant funding and generous donations to establish manatee rehabilitation facilities. While there are plans to create a rehabilitation center at our future Aquarium and Conservation Center, we’ll begin our efforts by building three tanks in behind-the-scenes areas on Zoo grounds first.
These initial facilities will be able to care for stable, non-critical manatee patients in need of additional monitoring, weight gain or better weather conditions for release. The goal for all our manatee patients will be for eventual release back into their native range.
While construction gets started, our veterinary staff are working with neighboring facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) to learn more about manatee care. Our two veterinarians, Dr. Trevor Zachariah and Dr. Kyle Donnelly, will also be attending continuing education to learn more about this species. In addition to these education efforts for our current staff, we’ll be adding additional staff with experience working with manatees.
As a high-profile species, decisions on the care of our future patients will be made with the oversight of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and MRP. A team from the MRP will decide when a manatee is ready for release as well as the release location. Our own staff will continue to be involved with manatee releases.
We are so thrilled to build upon these efforts and expand into manatee rehabilitation. We look forward to sharing more in the coming months!