Partnering to treat Florida’s most vulnerable manatees
St. Petersburg, FL (September 6, 2022) – Asha was about a year old in March 2021, an age when manatees are still following their mom’s every move. Instead, she was found by rescuers alone in the intracoastal waterway in Volusia County, underweight and with something wrong with the skin on her side, likely due to cold stress.
She was rushed to Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, where she received around-the-clock monitoring and extensive treatment for six months. After recovering from her immediate medical needs, she remained in their Manatee Critical Care Center maturing and growing and will be ready for release when the water temperature is just right.
Thanks to the global non-profit Greater Good Charities and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, manatees like Asha that are recuperating at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and ZooTampa at Lowry Park now have a new source of food. Project Peril, a program of Greater Good Charities, offered an emergency $100,000 grant to Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida to help them respond to the ongoing manatee crisis.
“Project Peril is dedicated to the conservation of species identified as in peril, threatened, endangered, or close to extinction throughout the world,” said Liz Baker, CEO of Greater Good Charities.“When we saw a way to help vulnerable manatees who are at risk due to a loss of habitat and food, we mobilized to help immediately.”
The foundation awarded ZooTampa and Jacksonville Zoo $35,000 each to help offset food costs; the average adult manatee eats about $200 per day in romaine lettuce in rehab. “Our critical care facility is relatively small, but manatees are still the most expensive animal we feed,” said Craig Miller, Curator of Manatee Conservation at Jacksonville Zoo. “We had 13 animals move through our facility last year, and it was our busiest year yet.”
The David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center at ZooTampa was the first non-profit acute critical care center in the world. Since 1991, they have treated more than 500 injured, sick, and orphaned manatees. Currently 15 manatees, including four orphan calves, are calling the Zoo home. “Manatees are an iconic species in Florida, and their conservation impacts all of us,” said Tiffany Burns, director of marine life & animal programs. “Caring and treating these majestic sea cows benefits the vital preservation of our state’s beautiful treasures and resources. Hopefully we can all make a difference working together.”
The foundation is using the rest of the donation to expand current projects to restore the Indian River Lagoon’s overall health by replanting vegetation at 10 sites with promising water quality, becoming an important food source for manatees. “Underwater plants are the lungs of the lagoon,” said foundation board chair Carlos Alfonso. “Two-and-a-half acres of seagrass can support as many as 100,000 fish and 100 million invertebrates, in addition to providing manatees with a crucial food source.”
The planting projects are part of a broad effort to restore thousands of acres of seagrass lost in recent years to harmful algal blooms. The thick algal mats, fed by excess nutrients flowing into the lagoon, cut off sunlight to the seagrass, ending photosynthesis. The nutrients come from septic systems, fertilizer runoff from lawns and other sources within the lagoon’s watershed.
“Habitat loss is the main threat to the majority of our state’s plants and animals,” said foundation president and CEO Andrew Walker. “We’re so grateful to Greater Good Charities for stepping forward to help us fund rehabilitation and restoration efforts, making an immediate impact and creating long-term solutions.”
About Greater Good Charities
Greater Good Charities is a 501(c)(3) global nonprofit organization that works to help people, pets, and the planet by mobilizing in response to need and amplifying the good. Greater Good Charities, with a 100/100 rating on Charity Navigator, has provided more than $400 million in impact, including cash grants, in-kind supplies, and programmatic support, to over 5,000 charitable partners in 121 countries since 2007. To learn more about how Greater Good Charities is amplifying the good across the globe, please visit greatergood.org or follow Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.
About the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida
The Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other public and private partners to conserve Florida’s native animals and plants and the lands and waters they need to survive. Operating as a statewide community foundation for conservation, the Foundation has raised and donated more than $60 million to conserve nature and our outdoor heritage. More information can be found at wildlifeflorida.org.
About Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
For over 100 years, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has aimed to inspire the discovery and appreciation of wildlife through innovative experiences. Starting in 1914 with an animal collection of one red deer fawn, the Zoo now has more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals and 1,000 species of plants, boasting the largest botanical garden in Northeast Florida. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a nonprofit organization and a portion of every ticket sold goes to the over 45 conservation initiatives Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens support around the world, and here in NE Florida. JZG is proud to be an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. For more information, visit jacksonvillezoo.org.
About ZooTampa at Lowry Park
ZooTampa at Lowry Park is a leader in wildlife conservation. Its state-of-the-art critical care center has cared for more than 500 injured, sick and orphaned manatees with the majority returned to Florida waters. A dedicated team of animal care and medical staff tend to manatees 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ZooTampa is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is an active member of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), a cooperative group of non-profit, private, state and federal entities dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, release and monitoring of manatees.