Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a record $109.9 billion budget including $3.5 million directed for manatee rehabilitation pools at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The funds are part of a record $20 million set to enhance and expand the State’s manatee acute care facilities and to restore spring access and habitat restoration in manatee concentrated areas.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium plans to break ground by the end of this summer on a 20’ x 30’ rehabilitation pool at its Island Estates location. When completed, the pool will be able to hold two manatee patients in need of care.
“For over a decade, Clearwater Marine Aquarium has assisted in rescuing, transporting, releasing and tracking wild manatees with our colleagues in the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership and throughout the Caribbean,” said President and Executive Director Dr. James “Buddy” Powell. “We are absolutely thrilled that we are now able to establish a new manatee research and rehabilitation facility here in Pinellas County.”
“The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a Florida treasure, saving our precious marine life and giving the world stories of inspiration like Winter the Dolphin,” said Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. “Amid a growing manatee crisis in Florida, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is now on the front lines of the fight to rescue, rehabilitate, release and track these iconic Florida marine mammals and restore their habitats.”
At least 575 manatees have died this year through June 3, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Last year, 1,101 manatees died, more than any year on record.
“Clearwater Marine Aquarium is exceptionally positioned to establish manatee rehabilitation facilities in Pinellas County. We have all seen the devastating news about record manatee deaths, reversing this will take immense coordination, resources and partnerships,” said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. “As a leader in the marine biology field, they are the forefront experts in manatee conservation and protection along with marine life rescue, rehabilitation and release.”
“Saving Florida’s manatees takes immense coordination, resources, and partnerships,” said Powell. “Clearwater Marine Aquarium is committed to this mission and our team of researchers, biologists and veterinarians are ready to assist with the continued influx of manatees affected by habitat loss, red tide, boat injuries, and cold stress syndrome.”
The acute care facility at CMA is part of a three-phase Manatee Survival Plan announced earlier this year. The second phase includes the construction of three manatee rehabilitation pools at CMA’s Fred Howard Park location in Tarpon Springs and the final phase involves a $10 million state-of-the-art facility back at CMA’s Island Estates location.