INDIAN SHORES — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released details Tuesday of an April 30 inspection of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary that netted 59 violations.
The violations at the facility, operated by its founder, Ralph Heath, include failure to use standard-size cages for birds being rehabilitated, to provide clean drinking water for 78 turtles housed in an off-site pool and to keep a daily log of animals in custody, the last of which accounts for 54 of the violations.
The FWC said conditions were so bad that eight captive birds had to be euthanized: a black vulture, a yellow-crowned night heron, a great white egret, three laughing gulls and two pelicans. Most of these had necrotic flesh and exposed bones.
“You could use some descriptive words and make people pretty upset by that,” said Lt. Steve DeLacure, an FWC spokesman. “They weren’t being taken care of.”
FWC officials said they were responding to complaints, namely from former volunteers.
“Reports from concerned citizens indicated that the wildlife at the sanctuary were not cared for properly and were living in squalor, which violates the permit conditions under which the sanctuary operates,” DeLacure said.
The citations come after FWC issued several warnings and years of highly publicized financial issues for the nonprofit facility, which opened in 1971.
The turtles were found in an off-site warehouse belonging to the sanctuary, and several birds were found in Heath’s home in unauthorized cages, DeLacure said.
“I don’t want to sound like a bunny hugger, but the animals deserve a voice,” he said.
He added that the charges are misdemeanors, with potential consequences that include fines, jail time or administrative action, such as potential nonrenewal of Heath’s rehabilitation permit.
Sanctuary officials did not return a call to comment.
DeLacure said Heath has begun measures to remedy the situation and that the agency will conduct a follow-up inspection in about a month.
“We’re far from over. This was the beginning of things,” he said.