By Jennie McKeon | 315-4434 | @jenniemnwfn | firstname.lastname@example.org
NAVARRE — One by one, the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge released seven juvenile brown pelicans Tuesday morning.
The birds, rescued from “all over,” were anxious to fly out over East Bay from cages lined up on the shore and dip their feathers in the water.
“This never gets old,” Wildlife Refuge Director Susan Leveille said. “The best days are always when we can release animals back into the wild. It’s part of our mission.”
Five of the birds had been entangled in fishing line, one was a failure to thrive case and one was brought to the refuge after it flew into the penguin exhibit at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park on Okaloosa Island.
Leveille said fishing lines continue to be an issue for pelicans and other seabirds. The refuge is working to install signs at fishing piers on Okaloosa Island, Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach to inform anglers how to properly dispose of their lines.
“We see it all the time,” she said. “When it happens, the best option is to call us to help.”
This is the second release of pelicans in two weeks at the same site off of State Road 87, which will be the future home of the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge.
Volunteers Bill and Carol Andersen have donated 2.28 acres of vacant land on East Bay for the refuge to relocate its rehabilitation and education facilities. The rest of the 5-acre plot they own there is willed to the nonprofit.
Carol snapped photos on her phone as the birds got acclimated. She said she has seen some of the previously released pelicans hang around the bay and hopes the pelicans released Tuesday won’t be strangers.
“It’s kind of emotional to watch,” she said. “It feels like all is right in the world.”
Depending on their injuries or circumstances, animals might stay with the refuge as long as 180 days. Leveille said the refuge seeks release sites with little human interaction. The land donated by the Andersen’s is a “great spot,” she said.
“I sort of feel like jumping in with them,” she added with a laugh.