Friday, June 22, 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
Support growing for Tom Jurich to become Bulls’ next AD

Support growing for Tom Jurich to become Bulls’ next AD

This dispatch comes at you from a remote south Georgia lake shore, where the waters remain far more pristine than the waves being made in USF athletics circles.Which is to say, a number of prominent folks are clamoring for Tom Jurich to become the Bu...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

TAMPA — A Democrat has officially joined the race for Hillsborough County sheriff.Gary Pruitt, a 50-year-old former Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at a local mall, qualified Friday to challenge Republican Sheriff Chad Chr...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Pride divided no more: St. Pete Pride comes back together

Pride divided no more: St. Pete Pride comes back together

ST. PETERSBURG — The 16th annual St. Pete Pride Parade is getting ready to march along the downtown waterfront the second straight year. But many hope to move past the division caused last year when the parade was uprooted from its original hom...
Updated: 30 minutes ago
Welcome back to the dark side, Bucs fans

Welcome back to the dark side, Bucs fans

TAMPA — Thursday was not the end of Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, but it is in sight.Me? I was sitting at home. I was tired of the NBA draft, even with Tampa's Kevin Knox going to the New York Knicks.So I switched to the NFL Network. An episode ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Winston aftermath: Report says Darby wasn’t in car for whole ride

Winston aftermath: Report says Darby wasn’t in car for whole ride

There's no telling how much detail will be disclosed in what the NFL learned in its investigation that led to Jameis Winston being suspended for the first three games of the upcoming season, but some have already been reported in the first 24 hours s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Pete man carves out a career and a way of life

St. Pete man carves out a career and a way of life

Wes Wing was down in the Keys, repairing roofs on family homes, after Hurricane George hit in September 1998. He wanted to beat the storm, as it traveled up the coast, and get back to St. Petersburg in time for a hurricane party he was hosting, so h...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Strangers are coming together to honor two killed in Bayshore crash

Strangers are coming together to honor two killed in Bayshore crash

TAMPA — John Reisinger has seen miracles since his niece and 21-month-old grand-niece were killed while trying to cross Bayshore Boulevard 30 days ago. Some, he says, are too painful to talk about. Others he’s still trying to make sense of, such as h...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Justices adopt new privacy rules for cellphone tracking

Justices adopt new privacy rules for cellphone tracking

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court says police generally need a search warrant if they want to track criminal suspects’ movements by collecting information about where they’ve used their cellphones. The justices’ 5-4 decision Friday is a victory for priv...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Brink: Why have Florida’s working-age men left the labor market in droves

Brink: Why have Florida’s working-age men left the labor market in droves

A cancer lurks within Florida’s otherwise rosy job numbers, one that’s has been called a quiet catastrophe and an intractable time bomb.Too many men between the ages of 25 and 54 have stopped working.Economists call those the prime-age years. Incomes...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Kwon Alexander to Jameis Winston: ‘We gotcha back’

Kwon Alexander to Jameis Winston: ‘We gotcha back’

There are many questions in the aftermath of Thursday's news that Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston will be suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season, but even before the suspension is officially announced, he is drawing support on social ...
Updated: 1 hour ago