Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary struggles financially as oil catastrophe looms

INDIAN SHORES

The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is struggling financially just as it is trying to prepare for a possible inundation of oil-covered birds.

Last week, the nonprofit bird rescue and refuge was unable to meet its Friday payroll for its 10 employees.

Paychecks were issued a day late on Saturday, according to Michelle Simoneau, although some staff members did not pick up their pay until Monday. She said the 39-year-old organization will be able to meet future payrolls.

"I cannot deny we are having financial difficulties," said Simoneau, marketing and public relations manager. "We are having a tough year and are struggling to get through it. We want to keep the sanctuary open and are dedicated to that mission."

A $1 million budget deficit last year forced the sanctuary to sharply cut back on its staff and limit program offerings earlier this year.

Last month, the sanctuary conducted a silent auction fundraiser that brought in about $8,000 — all of which was used for bird food, according to Simoneau.

Further fundraising is being planned, she said, and the bird refuge is also considering liquidating some assets to raise enough money to continue operations.

"We are also talking to some of our larger donors, hoping that they can help. Selling our beach property would be the very last step we would consider," Simoneau said.

The sanctuary is also asking its members for additional donations as well as seeking people willing to be on standby if the spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico threatens the Florida coast.

"It has been tough for us. Right now we are in the middle of an emergency crisis," Simoneau said. "We are heartbroken about what is going on. We don't have any reserves or any extra items or material. If the oil ends up on our beaches, we don't have extra stuff to deal with this."

The sanctuary, at 18328 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores, is asking for donations of linens, kennels, towels, sheets, Dawn detergent, paper towels, bottled water and Gatorade. The materials would be stockpiled for emergency use.

So far, the sanctuary has recruited more than 300 volunteers to help if the oil affects local birds, as well some who have offered to help at regional triage centers set up to rescue and clean oil-affected creatures.

Simoneau said the sanctuary is coordinating its efforts with Maryland-based Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, which has been designated to manage wildlife rescues and response along the Gulf Coast.

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary struggles financially as oil catastrophe looms 05/04/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 5:41pm]

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