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WHAT WE DO

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Rescue, Rehab and Release

We are a unique facility, specializing in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick or injured marine animals. All the animals that come through our doors arrive because they were suffering from an illness or severe injury in the wild. A majority of our animals were and are found by local residents, fishermen, park rangers, or even visitors to the area. We have a 24-hour emergency stranding line (727-441-1790, ext. 234) to report a marine animal emergency, and a CMA staff member is paged to respond to the emergency no matter what time it is. If an animal needs our assistance in the middle of the night, we will be there. Once the animal arrives at our hospital, a team of experienced CMA staff biologists, veterinarians and volunteers create a rehabilitation plan for the animal specifically catering to its injury or illness. Sometimes the injuries are so severe, or the animal is so young, that it would not be in the animal's best interest to release it back into the wild. CMA works with agencies such as National Marine Fisheries and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to make these decisions. If the animal is unable to be released back into the wild, it becomes a permanent member of the CMA family, and lives here to serve as an ambassador for their species to help us promote environmental conservation.

Over the years, CMA has successfully rehabilitated and released numerous marine animals. One of the most important factors to determine if an animal can return to the wild, is if they can display they have maintained their hunting skills.

There have been many successful releases of dolphins, sea turtles and river otters throughout the years. Each animal was cared for individually according to their injuries and given a name, as they have personalities just like we do. Even though it's hard to say goodbye to these amazing animals after a successful rehab, each one of them left their mark on the hearts of all who cared for them and will always be remembered.

Education

Environmental education plays an important role in Clearwater's local marine community and the CMA team works hard to lead the charge in educational excellence. Not only is CMA able to share conservation expertise and amazing animal rehab stories, we also offer solutions to help prevent some of the injuries from occurring in the first place. We convey this through a variety of hands-on educational opportunities, including eco-boat tours, kid's camps, behind the scenes tours, off-site presentations and animal exhibits. Our wide-screen theater and video displays share a world of animal rescue and treatment rarely seen.

One of our major missions at CMA is to raise environmental awareness through marine animal care. Our unique and exciting animal work has long been a popular topic among school children of all ages. We welcome teachers to integrate the animals and their amazing rehab stories into the curriculum, helping give a charismatic face to environmental concerns.

Educational school trip programs add a visual and fun component to marine animal learning techniques. We have programs designed for all education levels. The programs feature hands-on lectures, guided private tours, private eco-boat cruises, and dolphin presentations. With the use of technology, we have the ability to reach classrooms around the world with CMA L.I.V.E. virtual education programs. Our monthly educational speaker series, Making Waves, introduces participants to experts on a variety of topics and is free to the general public.

Sea Turtle Nesting

In addition to our sea turtle rehabilitation work, we also are honored to have been selected by Pinellas County to monitor nearly 26 miles of Pinellas County's coast line and report on any nesting activity. The combination of releasing injured and sick turtles back into the wild while ensuring as many hatchlings as possible make it into the Gulf is our way of protecting these species from extinction. Our sea turtle nesting work involves early morning patrols to locate new nesting sites, and late night patrols to check existing nests for hatchlings. The morning patrols are usually done by staff, interns, and volunteers who are trained to recognize the tracks left behind by the nesting females. Once we find these tracks, we can locate the egg cavity and mark off the nest site for further observations. We also GPS-locate the nest to ensure its location remains easy to find for daily observation.

LIGHTS OUT!

When the nests are ready to hatch, we cover the nest with a nest cage and have volunteers watch the nests from 10 pm until 2 am. These cages are essential in our area due to development on our beaches, since the turtles emerge at night and head toward bright lights. When they emerge into the cage we can then make sure they make it to the water safely.

Question: How many sea turtle hatchlings have been released into the Gulf of Mexico by the CMA staff and volunteer team in since 2005?

Answer: 60,390!

Nesting begins in May and the last nest will usually hatch by the end of October. Our area averages about 120 nests per season and each nest can contain, on average, 100 to 110 eggs.

Animal Enrichment

What is Enrichment?

Enrichment is a key component in every animal husbandry program. It is just as vital to our animals' overall health as is good nutrition and medical care. Out in the wild, animals are constantly faced with risks, challenges, and choices throughout their lives. This occurs during a majority of the activities that are required for basic survival – foraging for food, fleeing from predators, raising young, and interacting with other animals, just to name a few. Animals under human care inevitably have a more predictable lifestyle and are not challenged with many of these tough situations. This often leads to the animals displaying a variety of stereotypic or abnormal behavioral patterns. A successful enrichment program thus seeks to imitate Mother Nature by re-creating some of these unique circumstances, affording the animals a sense of choice and control over their environment and ultimately reducing the frequency of abnormal behavior. Enrichment activities are planned with the fundamental goal of encouraging "species-appropriate" behaviors, which are those that the animal naturally performs in the wild. Some examples include digging, changing swim patterns, foraging for food items, interacting positively with other animals, and stimulation of the senses. Enrichment is also specific to individual animals; in other words, what one animal might find positive and fun may actually be boring (or even aversive) to a different animal. Keeping this in mind, animal care staff must get to know animals on an individual basis in order to gain a better understanding of each of their likes and dislikes. This helps to ensure that the enrichment being provided to each animal will most effectively elicit a goal response. In general, it has been found that animals with a stimulating and enriching environment are healthier and happier!

Types of Enrichment

Enrichment can be divided into several categories: social, cognitive, physical habitat, sensory, and food-related activities. Social enrichment involves the animals' interaction with other animals both within and outside of their own species, their trainers and public guests, and items that may be perceived as another animal (via use of a mirror or plush toy). Cognitive enrichment can be implemented through the use of both training sessions and puzzle feeders, whereby the animal must solve a challenge or task in order to obtain food. The physical habitat can also be a very exciting source of enrichment; simply changing the design of the enclosure or the furniture and other items within it can be very effective in keeping an animal actively engaged. Sensory enrichment can be achieved by finding ways to stimulate the animal's senses – for example, providing a novel substrate for the animal to dig in, introducing new scents (i.e. other animals, extracts, etc.), playing sounds or music directly into the exhibit for the animals to hear, and strategically placing visually-stimulating items such as a mirror or enabling sight of natural prey items. These enrichment categories can often be overlapped with one another in order to create an even more exciting experience for the animals. The implementation of an effective enrichment schedule most heavily relies on the creativity of the animals' caretakers, and also the caretakers' ability to continually conceive of innovative ways to manipulate these categories in a manner that always keeps the animals wondering what's next!

Safety First!

Providing our animals with an exciting atmosphere through enrichment is definitely fun, but it also requires careful planning and assurance that the enrichment will be positive and safe. Health hazards and devices that could potentially cause injury to our animals must be avoided at all costs. In fact, each enrichment activity goes through a careful review process by the animal care staff and veterinarian before being placed into an animal's exhibit. Questions such as, "Can an animal get cut by, caught up in, hung up on, or trapped inside of the structure of device? Can it lead to escape? Are there any small parts that could potentially be chewed off and accidentally ingested?" must be answered before enrichment is approved. Keep in mind that these examples constitute only a sample of the dozens of potential health-hazard questions that must be taken into consideration before an enrichment activity is be deemed safe for animal interaction. One must remember that animals are very intelligent and crafty critters, so they will almost always come up with ways to use an enrichment item that we humans didn't think of first – so we must explore every possible avenue before giving our animals a new enrichment device. However, even after it is considered safe, a new enrichment activity must still be carefully supervised by staff members when it is initially placed into the exhibit to ensure that the animals are interacting appropriately and with the intended behavioral goals.

Enrichment Wish List

Staff members at CMA are constantly coming up with new enrichment ideas for the animals. Oftentimes the larger, more creative projects require some materials that are not always readily available. The volunteer Enrichment Team is extremely appreciative of donations that will assist in the creation of new enrichment initiatives! If you would like to help out by donating any of the items below, please email kmartin@cmaquarium.org . We are currently in need of:

  • Rope (large and small widths &lengths)
  • PVC piping (both large and small pieces &both long and short chunks)
  • Large "car wash" straps
  • Large plastic storage bins
  • Natural logs
  • Grass sod
  • Live enrichment (minnows, crickets, crawdads, etc.)
  • Disco ball

How Can I Become Involved?

Are you interested in directly helping to enrich the lives of our resident animals? There are several ways you can "get your hands wet"! You can always donate enrichment materials from our wish list, as this list is updated fairly often and we are always in need of new things. You can also become a volunteer on the Enrichment Team to assist with animal enrichment activities on-site, conduct Enrichment Presentations for the public, and contribute your creativity and ideas to the online forum. We also encourage groups of people to brainstorm, assemble, and participate in unique single-day enrichment projects for our animals. CMA also works with special-needs groups who feel they could obtain a mutual benefit from doing enrichment sessions with our resident animals. If any of these activities sounds like something you'd like to do, please email kmartin@cmaquarium.org to discuss further details!