MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The last two years have been devastating for Florida’s wild manatee population.

A lack of seagrass, their main source of food, has resulted in numerous deaths due to starvation. In all of 2021, FWC reported 1101 deaths. The number dipped to 800 in 2022.

The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature has been working to help rehabilitate sick and underweight manatees since 1998 and currently serves as a stage two care center, taking in manatees that have already received care at one of the state’s animal hospitals. Soon, that will change.

The museum is using about $1.3 million in funding from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to expand its capacity by more than 100% and provide critical care for injured manatees.

It is currently working to transform a leased space in Myakka City that used to be home to a sea lion conservation program. The facility, with seven pools, is being retrofitted to work for sea cows instead.

“Manatees always need help and no matter what the status is … endangered or threatened, they are always going to need help,’ said director of animal care Virginia Edmonds. “We are going to be able to contribute in a way we weren’t sure we would be able to really ever do for a long time. Our facility was not made for that,” she explained.

Edmonds, who has many years of experience in critical care, is looking forward to having the opportunity to help make a difference in a bigger way. With the extra space being ready for critical care patients, the manatees will now be able to be brought in directly from a rescue.

“We need the extra capacity and the space to be able to be ready in case we get a greater influx of manatees and we want to be able to help with that,” said Edmonds.

The leased property in Myakka City should be ready for manatees in April or May.

“We will be ready to help manatees however we need to,” Edmonds said.