MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature announced it secured $547,000 in state funding from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to expand its manatee care program.
The new facility would be located in Myakka City and would provide additional holding and acute care space. The facility is part of a statewide network of centers to rescue, rehabilitate, release and monitor manatees in Florida.
News of the funding comes on the heels of an update from the state on the condition of the manatee population. FWC officials confirmed that fewer manatees have died this year but said starvation is still a big problem. The concern ahead of winter is that more manatees will be in distress over a limited seagrass supply to feed on. Now, there is a new plan in the works to help the manatee population with a new rehabilitation center in Myakka City.
FWC officials said 631 manatee deaths were recorded between Jan. 1 and July 15. The development is positive news when compared with 864 deaths during the same period last year at the height of the ongoing manatee starvation crisis.
But experts who have been studying the manatee population and are trying to mitigate the problem said they were concerned about not seeing baby manatees among these recent deaths.
"There is concern that this is taking a toll on their reproductive health and the fact that we're not also seeing small calf carcasses," Martine de Wit, a Necropsy Veterinarian who is working with FWC on the Manatee Recovery Unified Command, said.
The experts said the animals are still dealing with a habitat that is not optimal and they expect more manatees will need help.
The state grant of more than half a million dollars to the Bishop Museum's manatee rehab program is expected to assist with the efforts to sustain the manatee population.
Once completed, the Myakka center will give rescued manatees a lifeline.
"We applied for the funding with this project in mind knowing that there is a facility available and not being used," Virginia Edmonds, director of animal care at the Bishop Museum, said. "It has pools that are in good shape and can definitely hold manatees."
According to leaders of the museum, the money would cover renovation to the facility and its seven pools as well as fund the leasing and staffing costs.
"This type of funding allows us to convert existing spaces, allows us to expand existing spaces, and have an impact on what is happening in the manatee population," CEO of the Bishop Museum Hillary Spencer said.
"The Myakka property and FWC funding are providing an opportunity for The Bishop not only to increase the number of manatees we can help but also the way in which we help them," Spencer said in an earlier statement. "The work that Virginia Edmonds, our Director of Animal Care, the Animal Care Team, and Museum veterinarian Dr. David Murphy are doing is impactful already, but this expansion will redefine The Bishop's role in the animal care community."
"We need to increase that capacity," Edmonds said. "We need to add heaters to the pool in the wintertime."
Renovations at the new manatee rehab center are expected to be completed this year.