Tuesday, April 24, 2018
News Roundup

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary no longer taking in injured birds

INDIAN SHORES — The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a haven for the sick and injured for four decades, can no longer afford to take in new birds.

Sanctuary officials aren't ruling out a turn in the financial situation that would allow them to again accept sick birds. But a board member says it would take a miracle to get the local institution back on its feet.

"The miracle for the birds needs a miracle," sanctuary board member Jerry Alan said.

Alan said the facility has had more than its share of troubles recently and board members have tried to find ways to stop the slide. The group, he said, was hampered by a lack of fundraising skills and publicity that scared off donors.

"I just really don't have an answer," Alan said. "If someone knows how to raise a couple of million bucks, that'd be cool."

In an email to the Times on Wednesday, operations manager Micki Eslick said:

"First, I would like to say we are not closing.

"Due to limited resources, the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is no longer able to accept additional birds requiring rehabilitation. We will be focusing on the care and completion of the rehabilitation process for the birds we currently have on property.''

She added that the facility would do its best for any birds dropped off at the site but would no longer actively rescue them.

Sanctuary founder/director Ralph Heath could not be reached for comment.

"This is really, really, really, really bad for the birds," said environmental activist and Clearwater Audubon Society member Lorraine Margerson. "There's just no place to go like them."

The impact, Margerson said, will also be felt far outside the Tampa Bay area because the sanctuary has regularly taken in birds from elsewhere.

"It is a disaster for bird conservationists," Margerson said.

Heath, 67, a zoologist, founded the sanctuary in 1971. It has gained a reputation as a model avian rehabilitation center known the world over. The main property, 18328 Gulf Blvd., has emergency facilities, a surgical center and indoor and outdoor rehabilitation areas.

Sanctuary literature says up to 10,000 wild birds (159 species) are treated each year. More than 80 percent of the birds that survive the first 24 hours are released back into the wild. It claims to be the largest and most successful wild bird hospital in the United States.

Nine of 10 birds are treated for injuries caused directly or indirectly by humans: gunshot wounds, entanglement in fishing tackle, and poisoning by pesticides and environmental pollution. The most common problems found among seabirds and the Eastern brown pelican are from fishhooks and fishing lines.

Suncoast Seabird also is known for its captive breeding of the Eastern brown pelican. It has been featured on the Today Show and 20/20.

The sanctuary is supported by donations. The most recent records filed with the Internal Revenue Service showed it had revenues of about $1.47 million and expenses of about $1.44 million for 2010.

But the sanctuary has had problems — many monetary — throughout the years.

Last year, the IRS filed three liens totaling $187,726 for unpaid payroll taxes. Those remain unpaid, according Pinellas County records.

Also last year, the U.S. Department of Labor concluded the sanctuary had not paid some employees for weeks. The sanctuary agreed to pay $21,336 in back wages for nine employees.

The sanctuary also fell behind on payments to the company that supplied fish for the birds. Progress Energy cut off the power for nonpayment on Jan. 7 but restored it when the sanctuary paid part of the bill and arranged to pay the rest, company spokesman Sterling Ivey said. The bill is in good standing now.

Last week, a creditor filed suit to foreclose on land the sanctuary owns at 12388 Starkey Road near Largo. The creditor, Ronald J. Cooper, alleges the sanctuary and Heath owe him $550,000. Cooper also is asking for unpaid interest, damages and attorney fees. He wants the land to be sold at a foreclosure sale. The property is used for storage and housing for some birds.

Heath also has faced a heavy barrage of personal criticism and charges of inept leadership from at least one group that wanted him booted out so it could take over operations at the sanctuary.

The sanctuary has tried to recover.

Heath, who owned some of the beachfront sanctuary land, transferred several parcels to a for-profit company formed by two of his sons last year. The property, which had been tax exempt, went on the tax rolls. Heath's sons have unsuccessfully appealed the decision to tax the property. A final decision from the county's Value Adjustment Board is pending. The Pinellas County property appraiser has assessed the sanctuary property at about $952,200.

Employees have been let go. Nine of the sanctuary's permanent residents that could not be released into the wild were donated to the Jacksonville Zoo.

Barb Walker, program coordinator for Osprey Watch, said the decision to close the doors to injured birds is "probably for the best."

"It's very, very expensive to take care of sick and injured birds," Walker said.

She echoed Margerson in saying that the decision will make things difficult for bird lovers, especially with baby bird season about to start. That's when a large number of birds get hurt.

Walker said she hopes the vacuum will be filled by someone else.

"It may be time for another (sanctuary) but it would need community support," she said.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.

 
Comments

He brandished a gun and demanded drugs, but he left empty handed twice, police say

TAMPA — Police are looking for a man who failed to rob two Tampa pharmacies last week.No one was harmed during the botched heists, but the man may be armed with a handgun, police said.In surveillance video released by detectives Tuesday, the suspect ...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
A Sarasota girl nearly dies after accidentally ingesting pool water

A Sarasota girl nearly dies after accidentally ingesting pool water

It started off like a regular pool day at her grandparent’s home. Elianna Grace, 4, and other kids were having fun, blowing water out of pool noodles at each other.Then, as Elianna was blowing water out one end of the noodle, someone else accidentall...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
Solid waste director gets job back

Solid waste director gets job back

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County is rehiring its former solid waste director who blew the whistle on a behind-the-scenes effort to buy a privately owned landfill in Sumter County. John Power, who worked previously for the county for 19 years, is schedu...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sarasota student under fire over his racist ‘promposal’

Sarasota student under fire over his racist ‘promposal’

The Sarasota County School District has begun to address the community after a Riverview High School student’s racist prom proposal over the weekend went viral, including reaching out to the Sarasota chapter of the NAACP.High school senior Noah Crowl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top places to hang with your dog in Tampa Bay, from breweries to baseball games

Top places to hang with your dog in Tampa Bay, from breweries to baseball games

Dogs are more welcome in public than ever these days. Bars and restaurants are making themselves more pet-friendly and you can find weekly "yappy hours" happening at spots all over Tampa Bay. Add to that a healthy number of dog-approved events and e...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Court sides with human in copyright fight over monkey selfie

Court sides with human in copyright fight over monkey selfie

SAN FRANCISCO — A U.S. appeals court on Monday favored humans over animals in a novel copyright lawsuit filed over a series of entertaining selfies taken by a monkey with a toothy grin. U.S. copyright law does not allow lawsuits that seek to give ani...
Updated: 2 hours ago
USF extends Mark Harlan’s contract

USF extends Mark Harlan’s contract

As expected, USF athletic director Mark Harlan has signed a contract extension that will keep him at the school through the 2020-21 school year.Harlan recently entered the final year of the original five-year deal he signed in March 2014 that paid hi...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Top 5 at noon: NRA breaks fundraising record after Parkland massacre; attorneys: Seminole Heights murder suspect might be mentally ill; and more

Top 5 at noon: NRA breaks fundraising record after Parkland massacre; attorneys: Seminole Heights murder suspect might be mentally ill; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com.NRA BREAKS FUNDRAISING RECORD AFTER PARKLAND MASSACREAs the student-led March for Our Lives movement captured the nation’s attention in the weeks after the Parkland shooting, the other side o...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Buckhorn urged to name woman as fire chief in wake of discrimination suit

Buckhorn urged to name woman as fire chief in wake of discrimination suit

TAMPA — In the wake of a female firefighter’s victory against the city in a discrimination lawsuit, Mayor Bob Buckhorn is being urged to name a high-ranking woman to replace retiring fire Chief Tom Forward.Earlier this month, Buckhorn said he will na...
Updated: 2 hours ago
So far, Pasco’s tourism base: Floridians, Canadians

So far, Pasco’s tourism base: Floridians, Canadians

NEW PORT RICHEY – The typical tourist in Pasco County this year most likely is a Floridian.But there are lots of Canadians here as well. Nearly 80 percent drove, rather than flew, to the region. Forty percent stayed in hotels, but more than a quarter...
Updated: 2 hours ago