Seabird Sanctuary facing financial trouble - FOX 13 News

Seabird Sanctuary facing financial trouble

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INDIAN SHORES (FOX 13) -

Take a stroll through the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, and all appears well. The birds seem to be thriving, thanks to their caretakers.

But behind the scenes, current and former staff members say financial clouds are looming over the cages.

"We've really been struggling to get enough donations to keep everything going. We've had to cut back on our staff," said Ralph Health, founder and director of the sanctuary.

Heath blames the floundering economy on the lack of donation money. He says the non-profit sanctuary must rely more heavily on volunteers now. He also points to the rising cost of fish, saying it takes about 600 pounds a day to feed all the hungry beaks here.

"We don't want to close, because these birds needs us. We want to do as much as we can for the wildlife and the environment," Heath said.

But is it simply a case of hard times hurting the sanctuary? FOX 13 spoke to former employees who paint a different picture, putting the blame squarely on mismanagement.

"There's a lot of financial issues going on. It's just things that have been brewing for years and years, they are really coming to the forefront now," said Michelle Simoneau, who spent four-and-a-half years at the sanctuary as the marketing and PR director.

Simoneau says she saw first-hand the improper use of funds, which she says kept coming in, despite the economy.

"My main job was as a fundraiser was to bring in the money, so I was bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars that were specifically earmarked for renovations, for the hospital, physical renovations, and those renovations were never done," she said.

Simoneau and other former employees FOX 13 spoke with say the facility is behind in paying some employees.

"I had a family member resign because of inconsistent and non-payments. In fact, they still owe her money," Simoneau said.

We asked Ralph Heath about the some of these claims, and he admits the sanctuary is behind in pay, saying they're trying to catch up as the money comes in, while still keeping the birds fed.

Heath also says the sanctuary is doing the best it can, despite its financial struggles. It is currently in the midst of a $100,000 fundraising drive.

Still, Simoneau worries that in its current state, the sanctuary might not be around much longer.

"As long as the money keeps coming, and it doesn't get spent to pay the employees and to feed the birds or for whatever, eventually the place is going to die out," she said.

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