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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 21, 2021 1 month ago

Save Our Seabirds to reopen July 30

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The bird hospital and research facility has been closed to the public for 16 months.
by: Nat Kaemmerer Staff Writer

After 16 months with locked gates, Save Our Seabirds will reopen to the public on July 30. 

The bird rescue and rehab center shut down in March 2020 like everything else as the COVID-19 pandemic gained momentum. While closed to the public, sanctuary staff has still been taking care of resident birds and birds in need.

They’ll  reopen with a two-day celebration on July 30 and 31, said operations manager Jocelyn Shearer. Admission will be free and there will be snacks and drinks available. 

“We're going to have just a little fun stuff for kids,” Shearer said. “It's just been too long. I continue to get many, many calls every day about birds in trouble, (but) it's not the same as people being able to walk through the gardens and see our resident birds.”

Not much has changed at the facility since visitors were last inside the gates. The staff never really left, as they had to be there to take care of the more than 120 resident birds and the 50-60 birds that are in the hospital and going through rehab, Shearer said. 

“It’s the same beautiful birds and the same caring staff,” Shearer said. “We're just very anxious to re-engage with the community … This whole time, we have been continuing to rescue and treat birds ... We've been there all day, every day doing our bird thing. I would say we're a close team, but we might be getting a bit of cabin fever.”

There are a couple behind-the-scenes changes. During the pandemic, the facility hired its first full-time veterinarian, Dr. Maria Passarelli. She won’t interact with the public much but will do some talks during the reopening festivities. Also, just before the pandemic, CEO David Pilston had announced the launch of a capital campaign to refurbish the facility and make some much-needed upgrades. It was put on pause and will likely be relaunched in the fall. 

Pilston in May 2021 announced he was stepping down in August. A search is under way for a new leader.

“We had such great momentum, and then, well, the world shut down,” Shearer said. “We were off to a very good start, so we're not picking up from scratch.”

Save Our Seabirds’ small staff made it difficult to reopen during the thick of the pandemic. A couple members of staff had contracted the virus and were out for a month at one point. 

“The concern was if four people out of 10 got sick, what would we do?” Shearer said. “We have to be there every day to feed the birds, come rain or shine, and because we have such a small staff, we really didn't have the ability to institute cleaning protocols and all those things that we felt would have been necessary to have reopened before there was a higher vaccination rate.”

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