Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat at The BISHOP Ahead of Schedule to Reopen

The Giving Coast

BY BRITTANY MATTIE SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY MAR 31, 2021

With today being Manatee Appreciation Day, the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature is celebrating its ahead-of-schedule renovations of the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat, a Stage 2 Rehabilitation Facility where sick and injured manatees come after they have been treated and stabilized at one of the state’s four critical care hospitals. "We are a temporary home for these wild manatees," says Remi Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Brand at The Bishop. "Since the Museum began participating in manatee rehabilitation in 1998, we have cared for more than 42 manatees in our rehabilitation habitat before returning them to the wild," says Gonzalez. "They are usually with us between six months and two years before we release them." 

Bishop's most recent manatee tenants, Viva and Felicia, were released on February 18, 2021, at the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, where wild manatees gather because of the warm water from the Tampa Electric power plant. With the habitat empty and ready for the remodel, the team temporarily closed the habitat and started construction March 1 for industrial and artistic renovations. “I think people will be surprised at the amount of work that goes into planning a project like this,” says Jack Balkan, Chief Facilities Officer at The Bishop. “It took about six months of conversations and sketches and presentations.” 

Meanwhile, Bishop’s designated veterinarian has been working hand-in-hand with the team and giving feedback to ensure sound development and design for the manatees’ new home. The renovations include new plumbing, which will further improve water quality for its marine residents. "Our veterinarian, Dr. David Murphy, is one of the foremost authorities on manatees in their natural habitat," shares Gonzalez. "He’s an integral part of our team because he knows manatees’ behavioral, physical and biological needs, and his knowledge complements our animal care team’s expertise." While designing a new animal habitat, Dr. Murphey providesd additional expertise and perspective on the animals’ safety, as well as the manatees’ physical and mental health. "He’s been a part of our team at every step, starting with the very first meetings with the design company," says Gonzalez. "Each week, as we’ve been making progress on the habitat, our director of animal care, sends him photos and talks with him about any concerns or recommended adjustments. He also visits regularly to see the progress in person."

The team is undergoing many walk-throughs to ensure the habitat is built to suit the manatees’ needs before final steps are set in motion—including a final pour of the concrete and filling the pool, as well as artistic touches. "Our primary goal for the renovations is to provide future rehabilitating manatees with a more naturalistic environment to help them transition even more successfully from rehabilitation back to the wild," Gonzalez says. "And when our visitors see the renovated habitat, they’ll get a much richer appreciation of how manatees live and what they do in the wild. The renovated habitat is inspired by a natural spring, which is where you’re most likely to see manatees in the wild – complete with crystal clear water and cypress trees!" The exhibit will take on the look and feel of a cypress swamp, with a brand new dock area and imitation cypress trees placed around the area to provide a more natural-looking habitat closer to what the manatees would experience in the wild. The trees, along with the entire renovation is being created by Nassal, an Orlando-based company that has done work for attractions and cultural institutions such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, Jacksonville Zoo’s African Forest exhibition and ZooMiami’s Florida: Mission Everglades. Further, the existing mural will be replaced with a life-size photo of the cypress spring at Ichetucknee Springs in central Florida, taken by photographer Matt Tilghman. And the new pool will include varying depths now to give the manatees the diversity of water depths that they would normally find in the wild. 

Balkan mentions next month’s plans include finishing touches like last paint coats, the shaping of the trees, cleaning up, filling the pool and getting the filters running to get it ready for Bishop’s new manatee tenants to arrive.

Reopening to the public will happen later this spring or early summer, but until then, every purchase in the Museum Store helps to support the programs, collections and manatee rehabilitation at The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature. No need to purchase admission to shop in the Store, just walk right in!

Pictured: The Bishop's director of animal care Virginia Edmonds and chief facilities officer Jack Balkan inspect progress on renovations to the Museum's Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat as team members from design/build firm Nassal continue work.

201 10th St. W, Bradenton, 941-746-4131

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