During the peak of the red flood crisis in Florida this summer, Jon Peterson had to dig deep into the Sea World storage warehouses to find enough portable pools to house the dozens of sick manatees that arrived at a rate of two or three a week.
The manager of the Orlando theme park for rescue for animals even saw that he was looking for air tickets to send some of his younger llama patients to zoos in Ohio to have enough space in the rehabilitation center for the latest victims of the toxic algae phenomenon that killed thousands of people of fish and marine mammals.
It was, says Peterson, "the roughest red tide we have had in a long time", testing to the utmost the possibilities of the Sea World facility and the many other essential components of a fragile network of foster care for the distressed sea life. in Florida in times of need.
Now, with red tides that still creep in high concentrations in areas of the west coast of the state, according to the latest water samples from the Florida's Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), there is little pressure on the marine parks , zoos and aquaria that continue to respond to the crisis a year after the outbreak.
Pool space is scarce for newer arrivals of affected manatees, dolphins and sea turtles. Employees and volunteers who save, treat, rehabilitate and liberate animals work long days with limited resources to save as much as possible.
"At the moment it seems that it is moving south again, we just have to work with it and take care of every lady," said Peterson, who says that only Sea World has swallowed 66 manatees this year, of which 15 tested positive. for the naturally occurring Karenia brevis organism that causes red tides. Currently, he said, 31 manatees were still in the rehabilitation center.
"We have brought in so many animals, I am approaching the upper limit, but we will do what is necessary," he said.
Perhaps the main relief valve is the Sea World partnerships with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Manatee Springs at Cincinnati Zoo.
"Both have opened their doors this year because of the need and said that we can take a little more than we normally have set up," Peterson said. "We sent it earlier in the year five, housing them six months to a year or sometimes two years, depending on the age and needs of the animal."
The tensions of one of the worst red tides in living memory have been up and down in the chain of federal and state agencies, marine research facilities and private operators such as Sea World, the Miami Seaquarium and Clearwater Aquarium which are the front line of crisis response. .
Adding to the challenge is the year-long closure for the renovation of the David A Straz Jr manatee intensive care center in ZooTampa.
"There was no choice, they had to have their tanks repaired," said Martine de Wit, leading veterinarian at the pathological laboratory of the marine mammals of the FWC in St. Petersburg, that the rescue and collection of sick and deceased marine life over the southwestern part of the state coordinates region.
"When we come to a manatee, we often get help from the locals, those who have reported it, they will sit there for an hour to support the manatee, keeping their heads out of the water to make it breathe .
"It takes a lot of effort to coordinate and get everything out of the closet – these are the cases that can push our system over the edge."
A look at FAT & # 39; s figures of manatee mortality shows the seriousness of this year's red-ice crisis. Preliminary figures for the first 10 months of 2018 show 191 deaths of confirmed or probable red tides, where the animals are poisoned when they eat sea grass coated with poisonous algae, compared with 67 for the entire year 2017, and only 15 the previous year.
The numbers can even be higher. With live rescues as a priority, says De Wit, her team can not end up at every dead manatee. "In many cases the carcasses are disbanded and this year because there are so many we have to leave a lot without a necropsy," she said.
In the Mote marine laboratory and aquarium of Sarasota, teams have been restoring 22 Atlantic dolphins with bottlenose dolphins since July 1, according to Gretchen Lovewell, manager of the facility's beaching research program, an unusually high number that contributed to the national oceanographic and atmospheric administration declaration August of an unusual mortality for dolphins in Southwest Florida.
"We were working non-stop during the peak of the event, picking up a dozen turtles and sometimes three or four dolphins a day, we could not have done it without our volunteers, people came out of the woodwork to help, "she said.
"Unfortunately for turtles and dolphins, most of the carcass restoration occurred, and only 15 survived during the peak of just over 200 turtles." The summer was difficult, I'm not going to turn it around, it was a hell. "