We asked you to help us answer the call for manatees in December 2021. Brevard County sees nearly triple the number of manatee rescues—and deaths—than any other Florida county, and we wanted to be a dedicated resource for our partners at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to call on to help these gentle giants.
Your response was incredible. You nearly tripled our ask of $30,000 in a matter of weeks, and we want to share with you what our team has been doing to aid FWC and manatees with your generosity as well as to say thank you for your contributions.
“This is difficult work, physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Jody Cassell, the Zoo’s Director of Conservation. “Seeing the support from our community has been a glimmer of hope for the effort we can accomplish together to improve the ecosystem and population of these beloved animals.”
After consulting more with FWC and USFWS on their immediate needs from us, we have used these funds toward building a team of experienced and committed volunteers as well as dedicating our staff’s time to help with manatee rescues, recoveries and provisioning, Jody said.
“We’ve deployed more staff for the rescue team than I imagined and have rescued countless manatees with our partners,” she said. “Many of those animals are recovering well. Some are back in our waterways already.
“It’s wonderful to be a part of a success story when possible.”
Currently, members of our Zoo manatee team help FWC almost daily with both manatee rescues, provisioning and, unfortunately, the removal of manatee carcasses and the required necropsies.
“It’s hard to see manatees struggling. Seeing a deceased manatee breaks my heart, even though I see it often. I don’t think I’ll ever become desensitized to this and hope I don’t as it’s fuel to the fire which keeps many of us working nonstop to make a difference for this special species.”
We have built a team of about 85 to pull from when we receive a request for support from FWC. These individuals are staff and select volunteers who have animal experience and committed time to these efforts. We have held two official training courses (both land and boat based) and various private training courses to build this team.
In the near future, we will most likely supplement our team with a variety of rescue equipment. We are also working on becoming official members of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, a cooperative of organizations that rescue, rehabilitate and release manatees. Joining this organization is the next step to building on our efforts to help this species.
The Unusual Mortality Event for manatees continues to be investigated by FWC and USFWS, but researchers believe manatees are starving due to the lack of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon. Poor water quality in the Lagoon has caused widespread seagrass loss, according to FWC.
Our Restore Our Shores team continues to push forward with projects aimed at restoring organisms that are key to a healthy lagoon ecosystem: oysters, clams, mangroves and now, sea grasses. We’ve also been approved to build a seagrass nursery this year to grow and transplant grasses to the lagoon. This project is still in its early stages, but we are excited to share more soon!
Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.