A Florida manatee.

Good news for manatees: Later this month, the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat at Bradenton's Bishop Museum of Science and Nature will reopen after extensive renovations.

The news for manatees has been grim in recent months. As of May 4, nearly 700 manatees had died this year, more than the total number of manatee deaths in 2020. Florida wildlife officials have committed an extra $8 million to better understand why the deaths are happening and find a solution.

The Parker habitat will focus on helping manatees recover enough to return to their natural habitat. It will provide manatees with an environment full of “features [that] are similar to what they'll encounter in the natural environment when they return to the wild,” said Virginia Edmonds, the Bishop's director of animal care, in a press release. “We have some new things that we hope the manatees will like. There’s a lot more texture in the pool—manatees are very tactile and they like to scratch, and the new rougher surfaces will give them more of an opportunity to use their sense of touch.”

Other changes inside the habitat include the installation of a tree and levels for the manatees to rest on, as well as improved filtration and new equipment for handling manatees. Outside the habitat, changes include new paint, carpeting, lighting and a mural.

“If we’re returning [manatees] to the wild, what could make them more comfortable here? What can help them learn about the wild?” Edmonds asked in a recent live Facebook event. She said the focus is to help the manatees have as seamless a transition back into the wild as possible after their time at the Bishop.

The pool for the manatees resembles a cypress spring, a natural habitat that manatees frequent. In the center of the pool is the new tree, breaking up the still water. There are many new rocks and a fallen tree that manatees can interact with. The back wall features a cypress mural. The actual size of the pool remains unchanged.

“We’re still at 60,000 gallons,” said Edmonds. “There is a little more space in the pool because we took out a structure that was sort of not being utilized by them.” This means that the habitat can hold four manatees, but could probably hold up to six “pretty comfortably.”

The renovations were made possible thanks to Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Daniel S. Blalock, Jr. Charitable Foundation and the Ralph S. French Charitable Foundation Trust. When the exhibit opens, two manatees will be in residence in the habitat. The official opening day is yet to be announced, but will be announced soon on social media.

To learn more about the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat, visit the Bishop website or the museum's Facebook page.