Five Manatees Return to Florida Waters After Several Years of Rehabilitation

The Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, in collaboration with SeaWorld Orlando and six other zoological and manatee care organizations, achieved a successful release.

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Five Rehabilitated Manatees Return to Florida Waters After Several Years of Rehabilitation

Yesterday, the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), a cooperative group of non-profit, private, state, and federal entities who work together to rescue, rehabilitate, release, and monitor sick and injured manatees successfully released five orphaned manatees to Blue Spring State Park in Florida after a years’ long journey of rehabilitation by multiple members of the partnership.

The manatees were originally rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and MRP Partners between 2020 and 2021. SeaWorld Orlando, The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Brevard Zoo, Georgia Aquarium, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Save the Manatee Club, partnered closely for several years to provide treatment to fully rehabilitate these orphaned calves. In a complex release operation that took all day to complete, the sea cows are now safely home in Florida waters.

“Over the past several years, we have been called upon to rescue an increasing number of injured, sick, and orphaned manatees,” said Virginia Edmonds, President of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership. “We are grateful to our partners for stepping up to the plate to not only rescue animals in need but to commit countless hours to the collective rehabilitation of these animals, which enabled the releases today. But our work doesn’t stop here.

Every animal returned today will be fitted with a GPS tracking device that will allow researchers the ability to monitor their movements and ensure their acclimation to their natural habitat for the next year. These releases come at a critical time for the species as Florida manatees are at high risk from natural and human-caused threats.

“We pride ourselves on our nearly 50-year legacy to the rescue, rehabilitation, and return of manatees to save these beloved Florida icons who play a critical role in our ecosystem,” said Dr. Joseph Gaspard, Vice President of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando & Vice Chairman of the MRP. “While we are thrilled to lead this effort, it would not be made possible without close collaboration with our partners in the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership. This was truly a team effort among the zoological community to ensure the best care was provided to return these manatees back to their natural habitat.”

Manatees that were transferred back to Florida waters:

Manatee

Rescued

Today

Squirrel

Rehabilitated at SeaWorld Orlando, Miami Seaquarium and Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Transported by Ideal Lease

May 2020 in Tavernier, Fla.

Weight when found: 66 pounds

Weight when moved to Columbus Zoo: 116 pounds

Weight: 960 pounds

Lizzie

Rehabilitated at SeaWorld Orlando and Columbus Zooand Aquarium
Transported by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

July 2020 in Palm Coast, Fla.

Weight: 63 pounds

Weight: 855 pounds

MaryKate

Rehabilitated at SeaWorld Orlando and Columbus Zooand Aquarium
Transported by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Found swimming alone in January 2021 in Blue SpringState Park, Fla.

Weight: 107 pounds

Weight: 815 pounds

Clank

Rehabilitated at SeaWorld Orlando and Georgia Aquarium
Transported by SeaWorld

December 2021 in Port St. John, Fla.

Weight: 128 pounds

Weight: 725 pounds

TinkTink

Rehabilitated at SeaWorld Orlando and Georgia Aquarium
Transported by SeaWorld

December 2021 in Blue Spring State Park, Fla.

Weight: 124 pounds

Weight: 840 pounds

 

From Rescue to Release

Georgia Aquarium and Zoo Tampa Unite to Release Rehabilitated Manatees

As part of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, Georgia Aquarium and Zoo Tampa collaborate to release two rehabilitated manatees to their natural habitat after a journey of care and recovery. 

The story of these majestic sea creatures unfolds as they are released back into the ocean waters:

Where it all started:

Their journey began when the Zoo Tampa team rescued these young, stranded manatees after being found stranded, cold-stunned, and emaciated. They provided initial health assessments and care for several weeks. However, due to their fragile state, it was deemed necessary for the manatees to gain additional weight and vitality before being released back into their natural habitat.

As part of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, Georgia Aquarium staff stepped in to help provide a haven for these marine mammals while nurturing them back to health at our off-site facility.

 

See their journey from Zoo Tampa to Georgia Aquarium:

From Rescue to Release

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning a new (lettuce) leaf: 

Under the watchful eye of Georgia Aquarium staff, the manatees underwent an attentive rehabilitation process to ensure they were ready to return to the ocean. Over the past several months, the dedicated care and attention of the Aquarium team paid off. The manatees gained substantial weight and strength. 

Before being officially approved for release, the manatees underwent thorough health assessments to ensure they were in peak condition. These assessments, combined with the unwavering care from the Zoo Tampa and Georgia Aquarium teams, ensure that these manatees have the best possible chance for survival.

Check in with our manatees before their release:

From Rescue to Release 2

A manatee-tale ending: 

The time has finally come!

Reuniting with the team at Zoo Tampa, this story comes full circle. On January 30, the Georgia Aquarium team traveled to the coast of Tampa, FL. Joining Zoo Tampa staff and other partners in releasing these two manatees back into their home waters. 

The successful rehabilitation and release of these two manatees symbolizes a beacon of hope for the ongoing efforts to protect and preserve marine life. Its also a reminder of the impact that collaborative initiatives and compassionate care can have on the lives of these and other species, contributing to a healthier and more vibrant marine ecosystem.

Take a look at their heartwarming release (get the tissues ready):

From Rescue to Release 1

 

 

This story is not only a testament to the successful collaboration between two renowned institutions, but also a celebration of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership’s mission to provide a safe haven for manatees in need. Georgia Aquarium takes pride in being a valuable member of this partnership, contributing to the conservation and well-being of these incredible marine mammals.

Georgia Aquarium Partners with Southern Conservation Trust on Box Turtle Nesting Research

A collaborative conservation effort between Georgia Aquarium staff and the Southern Conservation Trust resulted in a record box turtle nesting season at The Ridge Nature Preserve.

This extraordinary partnership set out to protect the delicate box turtle nests within The Ridge Nature Preserve and gather data to better understand the substantial box turtle population in the area. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. With a total of 23 box turtle nests safeguarded throughout the nesting season. The success of this collaboration demonstrates the power of teamwork and a shared commitment to preserving this remarkable species.

The highlight of this year’s endeavor is the remarkable success in hatching. More than 40 hatchlings have resulted from this collaborative effort, marking a significant increase in the box turtle population within the region. Nesting season for box turtles generally starts in the spring and concludes with hatching in the fall. Last year, 12 nests were protected in The Ridge Nature Area, with nine hatchlings. The dense population of box turtles in one area is significant. The data collected from this population will provide insight into the local environment’s health and aid researchers in determining practices to help conserve this species in other areas.

Box turtles benefit greatly from protected areas – which maintain natural habitats and protect them from predators, visitors, and vehicles. However, habitat loss, traffic incidents, and collection for the pet trade are all factors that can contribute to species decline. Georgia prohibits Eastern Box Turtles from being taken as pets because they are considered vulnerable on the IUCN red list.

If you come across a box turtle, do not disturb them unless removing them from the road. Box turtles have a homing instinct which gives them the ability to navigate to a “home base” despite being in an unfamiliar area. Box Turtles will wander continuously until they reach their home base if they become separated from it.

The partners hope to continue this success in the coming years. The success of the 2023 box turtle nesting season is not only a testament to the hard work and dedication of the individuals involved but also a celebration of the vibrant and diverse ecosystem that The Ridge Nature Area sustains.

 

For more information on this exciting project, view our video.

Georgia Aquarium’s Manta Rays Test New Technology to Help Their Oceanic Counterparts

Tech nerds always want in on beta testing of the hottest new advances. They’d be envious of the manta rays at Georgia Aquarium, who recently got to try out new IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) tags designed to track the migration patterns and seasonality of giant oceanic manta rays that live in the waters near Canaveral Shoals, Florida.

Jake Levenson, a marine biologist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)  said, “tapping the unique skills and resources of the experts at Georgia Aquarium was crucial to the development, design and testing of the IMU tags in a controlled environment before BOEM uses them in the wild.” One of BOEM’s functions is to oversee dredging ocean sand for beach nourishment, shore protection and wetland restoration. The tagging giant ocean mantas will help BOEM understand their habits to avoid disturbing these endangered fish during dredging operations.

with the collaboration between BOEM and Georgia Aquarium focused  on innovative techniques to track manta rays. After a series of obstacles to gathering migratory information due to inclement weather, the COVID-19 pandemic, and difficulty both applying IMU tags and getting them to adhere to the manta rays, the team focused their attention fully to inventing open-access techniques and technologies to study manta rays. Georgia Aquarium is the only aquarium in the United States that provides care for manta rays, and the mantas living at the aquarium helped test their prototypes.

“Testing the IMU tags at Georgia Aquarium provided a controlled environment that allowed the engineers to improve on the tag and attachment design with each deployment to hopefully one day result in success in the field,” said Katelyn Herman, manager of conservation programs at Georgia Aquarium and a researcher on the project .  In-house trials with the Aquarium’s manta rays led to a series of improvements to address floatation, orientation and improved hydrodynamic flow.

When suction using compressed air failed to adhere the tags, the team turned to Vaseline, Manuka honey and finally peanut butter(!) to improve retention times. “Peanut butter gave us the best results by far, enabling retention for up to four hours,” Herman said.

The open-source IMU tag design will provide a resource for future research to understand this elusive and important endangered species, Herman said. “Georgia Aquarium’s manta rays played a big part in assisting the ongoing conservation efforts of their species.”

To learn more about Georgia Aquarium’s conservation work, click here.

Prince William Sound is Alaska’s First Hope Spot

Prince William Sound lies in the heart of the southcentral Alaska coastline, encompassing 3,500 miles of intricate coastline. With a dramatic landscape of fjords, islands, and over 150 glaciers, Prince William Sound is home to a vibrant diversity of wildlife. Over 220 species of birds share the Sound with brown and black bears (Ursus arctos, U. americanus) and an array of marine mammals including orca (Orcinus orca), minke (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).

Prince William Sound is a resilient ecosystem and holds significant historical, cultural and spiritual value. Past impacts include logging and mining activities, whaling and sea otter trades, the 1964 earthquake, and notably, the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, from which recreation and wilderness values as well as some seabird and marine mammal populations are still recovering. Prince William Sound faces current challenges with accelerating climate change, warming ocean temperatures, threats from invasive species, persistent marine debris, and balancing increased tourism with sustainability. In the face of these challenges, Alaska Native communities continue their ancient traditions today, relying on subsistence hunting from both land and sea.

International marine conservation non-profit Mission Blue has named Prince William Sound as a Hope Spot in honor of its resilience, innovation, and community.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, says “Prince William Sound is a place of tremendous resilience and the first Hope Spot in Alaska. Through education, awareness, citizen science and volunteer projects, the champions and partners of this Hope Spot are working to protect the resources of Prince William Sound. They encourage users of Prince William Sound to be good stewards of the environment and help safeguard it for now and for future generations.”

Dr. Charla Hughes, Executive Director of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation (PWSSF) and Dr. Dayne Buddo, Director of Global Policy at Georgia Aquarium are recognized as the Hope Spot Champions.

“We are honored and delighted for Prince William Sound to join the esteemed network of Mission Blue Hope Spots as the first one in the State of Alaska. We hope this designation will encourage stewardship as well as even greater community engagement across the Sound,” said Dr. Charla Hughes, Executive Director of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation. “PWSSF looks forward to celebrating the Sound’s incredible cultural, historical, and scientific significance at our sixth annual PWS Natural History Symposium in May and to working with our growing community of partners and volunteers on hands-on stewardship projects.”

The Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation and Georgia Aquarium are working to conserve, restore, and encourage responsible stewardship of Prince William Sound. With public education, citizen science, and restoration projects focused on marine debris, invasive species, trail maintenance and campsite restoration, these organizations are positively impacting the future of Prince William Sound.

“Prince William Sound is a vital ecosystem that supports diverse marine species, its connected waterways, and human life, especially in Native communities throughout the Sound. As the first Alaskan Hope Spot, we hope to continue preservation and restoration efforts alongside our partners through research, conservation, education and policy, to ensure that this iconic landscape can be protected for generations to come,” said Dr. Dayne Buddo, Director of Global Ocean Policy at Georgia Aquarium.

The Prince William Sound Hope Spot is bordered by the Chugach Mountains to the north and east, the Kenai Peninsula to the west, and the Gulf of Alaska to the south. Like a vast inland sea, Prince William Sound serves as a connector between rivers and bays and the Gulf of Alaska and, consequently, the North Pacific Ocean.

The glacial waters of Prince William Sound are rich in marine nutrients, supporting five species of salmon, migrating populations of humpback whales, resident and transient pods of killer whales, and much more. In order to make the arduous journeys from the ocean back to their natal rivers, salmon build their strength feeding in the rich waters of the Sound, and humpback whales feed here to build strength for the migration to Hawaiian waters for birthing. Kelp forests comprised of bull, ribbon and sugar kelp also contribute to the marine ecosystem by providing habitat and nutrients for marine species, and acting as carbon sinks.

Prince William Sound is easily accessible from Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Several economic drivers including recreation, ecotourism and commercial fishing provide opportunities for the area’s residents and visitors. Kelp is also a growing economic driver for Prince William Sound, as kelp grows in popularity as a superfood and for other applications.

“Imagine a place where the mountains shoot up from the ocean, glaciers you can walk on that touch the ocean’s tides, and a place full of life from the sky to the rocks in the water. With over 6 million acres (about the size of New Jersey) of land and over 5,000 miles of coastline, this is Chugach, where over 1,500 Alutiiq/Sugpiat and dAXunhyuu (Eyak) people call home. On the west side of the Chugach region is the Nellie Juan-College Fjord. Chugach Natives have called Chugach home for 10,000 years since our glaciers have receded and our mountaintops emerged from the ice. As stewards of the region, we have had an intricate, respectful, and protective relationship with our land and its resources,” said Willow Hetrick, Executive Director of Chugach Regional Resources Commission. “This is a timely and appropriate step to ensuring the continued resilience of inhabitants and visitors to PWS alike.”

“The Chugach National Forest welcomes the work by Mission Blue and the PWS Stewardship Foundation bringing positive attention to Prince William Sound. Mission Blue strives to protect places that ‘are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean’ which could not be more true for the Chugach National Forest lands of the Prince William Sound,” said Chris Stewart, District Ranger on the Glacier Ranger District of the Chugach National Forest.

“The scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey Landslide Hazards Program were very pleased to hear that Prince William Sound was selected as a Mission Blue Hope Spot. Given our research focus, we spend much of our time directed towards better understanding the region’s natural hazards. Yet, each day we get to spend working in and reflecting upon Prince William Sound is a privilege,” said Dennis Staley, Research Physical Scientist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

On the 35th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Prince William Sound stands as a symbol of resilience. The long-term work of world-class oil response personnel working alongside community-based organizations has supported the area’s continued recovery and bright future.

Learn more about Prince William Sound by watching the video below:

About Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation
The Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation (PWSSF) is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to keeping Prince William Sound healthy, clean, and wild for all to enjoy. PWSSF supports its mission through public education events, marine debris cleanups, trail work, campsite restoration, invasive species mitigation, and more.

About Georgia Aquarium
Georgia Aquarium is a leading 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Atlanta, Ga. that is Humane Certified by American Humane and accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Georgia Aquarium is committed to working on behalf of all marine life through education, preservation, exceptional animal care, and research across the globe. Georgia Aquarium continues its mission each day to inspire, educate, and entertain its millions of guests about the aquatic biodiversity throughout the world through its engaging exhibits and tens of thousands of animals across its eight major galleries.

St Helena Island Recognized as Mission Blue Hope Spot

In the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean between Angola and Brazil lies a remote volcanic
island of a mighty 47 square miles (121.7 square kilometers). Discovered uninhabited in 1502 by
the Portuguese, St Helena Island became a British Overseas Territory in 1659 and is now home
to 4,439 residents (2021 Census). Due to its remote geographic location and small population,
the island has not suffered the environmental degradation commonly seen in other blue places
around the world. Recognizing this, the St Helena National Trust, and local and UK governments
are working in tandem to maintain a vibrant and healthy future for both the island’s wildlife and
human inhabitants.

International marine conservation non-profit Mission Blue has named St Helena Island a Hope
Spot in honor of the island’s ongoing initiatives to manage and monitor its marine environment
as well as to grow a sustainable economy.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, says, “This marine protected area and new Hope Spot
of nearly half a million square miles now faces pressures largely outside its control from rapidly
changing climate, invasive species and pollution. By becoming a Hope Spot, St Helena can act as
a beacon to the rest of the world. Although geographically isolated, it is deeply ecologically
connected to many distant realms, and indeed, other Hope Spots.”

Helena Bennett, Director of the St Helena National Trust and Dr. Dayne Buddo, Director of
Global Policy of Georgia Aquarium are recognized as the Hope Spot Champions, as these
organizations have been working together with the St Helena Government for 10 years to
implement marine science and monitoring programs for the island.

“The remote island of St Helena is a very special area of marine biodiversity and represents true
hope for ocean resilience,” said Dr. Dayne Buddo, Director of Global Ocean Policy at Georgia
Aquarium in Atlanta. “With steadfast resource conservation, this area should withstand the
many issues that our ocean faces and demonstrate to the world the immense value of islands.”
“The Ocean has a way of enchanting us, capturing our imagination and intriguing us with
mysteries of the unexplored,” said Helena Bennett, Director of the St Helena National Trust.
“Our island and its surrounding waters are steeped in our culture, and traditions and have
played a massive role in our history’s timeline since our island’s discovery in 1502, evolving our
way with a sense of nostalgia and a feeling of belonging and home”.

In September 2016, the island of St Helena legally designated its entire exclusive economic zone
(EEZ), nearly 450,000 km2, as a marine protected area (MPA), safeguarding species like whale
sharks (Rhincodon typus) and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas).

Dr. Buddo says, “This Hope Spot can provide a window to the rest of the world to see how
sustainable use of fishable resources (food security) can be accomplished.” He continues, “I
hope these stories will resonate throughout all levels of society of how local fishers, NGOs and
heads of governments can collectively work together towards achieving the ‘ocean we want’ –
an ocean that is healthy, balanced and thriving for generations to come.”

“St Helena has an extraordinary combination of endemic species, natural beauty and the only
known whale shark breeding location in the world. The Mission Blue Hope Spot designation,
combined with the dedication of the local community to marine conservation, shows how we
can save the ocean when we work together,” said Dr. Alistair Dove, Vice President of Science
and Education at Georgia Aquarium.

St Helena’s remoteness and age have resulted in the development of a unique assemblage of
marine species, creating an oasis in what would otherwise be a vast open ocean. The island’s
narrow inshore area and offshore seamounts provide a unique habitat for a wide variety of
marine species. More than 800 have been identified, 18 of which are endemic, and scientists
believe there could be many more yet to be described. Offshore seamounts provide feeding
opportunities for pelagic species and seasonally migrating megafauna including whale sharks
and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).

The St Helena Island Government has taken the lead on evidence-based scientific research,
policy, and legislation, and has just published a new Marine Management Plan (MMP) for 2023
to 2027, supported by the UK Government’s Blue Belt Programme.

The Hope Spot Champions’ and local government’s goals for the island are ambitious. Delivering
the objectives and actions of the Marine Management Plan will facilitate continuous community
engagement and capacity building to foster ocean stewardship, local ownership, and sustained
environmental consciousness across the island. According to the MMP, a key value of the
marine protected area is “Economic benefits and opportunities derived from the natural
environment [are to be] underpinned by robust evidence and strong environmental
consciousness.”

Limited human pressure on the waters around this island means this oasis of biodiversity is in
excellent condition, and the community of St Helena is rightly proud to keep watch over such a
beacon of hope to others, and one that has been attracting the attention of eco-minded
tourists. The island’s narrow continental shelf allows for whale sharks to come close to the
shore, and snorkeling to see them has become both a popular ecotourism activity and an
important economic opportunity.

While local marine tour operators have been voluntarily complying with an accreditation
scheme since 2016, new marine regulations were introduced earlier this year. Now, with the
formal licensing of all operators, and full support from local marine tour operators the island
can look forward to growing its marine tourism sector responsibly, championing the best of the
Hope Spot and inspiring visitors in the process.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Minister for the Americas and the
Caribbean, David Rutley MP says “St Helena is home to a range of unique marine species and
habitats creating breath-taking coastal scenery and underwater environments. I’m proud to see
St Helena’s MPA designated as a ‘Hope Spot’. This speaks to the fantastic working collaborations
St Helena has with its local community, Government and NGOs in creating ocean conservation
consciousness through sustainable use”.

Craig Yon, owner of Dive St Helena says “I’m delighted that there is a structured approach to
ensure we, the tour operators, are able to showcase our marine environment in a safe and
friendly manner. Being accredited as a marine tour operator by the St Helena Government,
emphasizes the healthy working relationship earned over the years between the tour operators
and the local authorities to protect the environment for future sustainable use”.

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