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Clearwater Marine Aquarium

A Story By

The Tampa Bay area and surrounding bodies of water are home to numerous types of marine life. No place connects people to the marine life in the environment better than the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

With numerous exhibits and a wide variety of animals, CMA’s mission is simple, “preserving the environment while inspiring the human spirit through leadership in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine life, environmental education, research, and conservation.”

At UNATION, we wanted to know what it was like to be an Animal Care Expert at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and work with them on a daily basis. Cassandra Starr is a Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Specialist who gets to care for CMA’s sick and/or injured threatened/endangered sea turtles.

Starr earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Sciences and after a visit in the spring of 2011 knew this is the place she needed to be.

“I moved down to Florida with my husband six months later and started to volunteer,” she explained. “Volunteering is where it all started for me and molded me into the person I am today. As I dedicated time in several animal care departments at CMA, I wanted to learn and experience more, so I became an intern.”

Six years as a volunteer/intern, turned into a full-time employee now working with the sea turtles. For Starr, it was worth every moment. 

“I absolutely love what I do and feel fortunate that what I love is what I get to do full-time,” she added. “I am very passionate about our ocean creatures, especially sea turtles. Sea turtles are so important and are crucial for keeping our oceans healthy.”


And every day at her job brings something new. Working in a hospital setting, sea turtles of all sizes could arrive at any time, meaning plans are never set in stone. Starr’s day usually starts with fish prep where she and her team prepare all the diets for their rehab patients.

“I also work closely with our veterinarian where an appropriate treatment plan is developed and my team will assist with making sure the turtles get the medications/therapy they need.”

Helping those animals is the favorite part of her job. To be able to witness an animal in critical condition and fight, and in the end, see them released is something that will never get hold for Starr.

“Release days are the best days for me even though you can develop emotions knowing that I may never see them again,” she added. “I know that they are living happily where they belong and I had a small part in that.”

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not just a place to see your favorite animals and exhibits, but a working marine animal hospital that is home to those animals that can’t be released back. Those who have never visited CMA can expect to see a place where both ambassador animals who each have a rescue story and current rehabbed sea turtles and animals all in one place.

“Each animal at CMA has overcome an obstacle they faced in the wild and can teach people how they can help reduce those challenges,” Starr said.


As for her favorite exhibits? One of those involves the aquariums’ most famous residents, the dolphins.

“I absolutely love our expansion, Ruth and J.O Stone Dolphin Complex,” she said. “It’s large and every corner you turn to me you feel you are underwater with the dolphins. My absolute favorite though is Mavis Rescue Hideaway because it has sea turtles, fish, stingrays, and an eel which makes me feel like I am in the ocean.”


What's Happening at CMA?​

While the Clearwater Marine Aquarium welcomes thousands of visitors each month, their biggest initiative at the time is focused on building a new manatee rehabilitation center to help with the influx of manatees in need.

For over a decade we have assisted in rescuing, transporting, releasing, and tracking wild manatees around the world,” said Kelsy Long the Director of Media Relations for Clearwater Marine Aquarium. “Now, with the unfortunate culmination of red tide in Tampa Bay and an ongoing Unusual Mortality Event on Florida’s east coast, we are fast-tracking our plans to assist in the rehabilitation of Florida’s manatees.

In addition to unveiling a new manatee rehabilitation center, CMA has several other exciting things coming this fall including a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the release of Dolphin Tale.

“We are bringing back some of the props used in the film and screening both the Dolphin Tale films in our brand new theatre,” she added. All of the screenings and activities are included with admission.”

Don’t forget to check out other monthly events including Dolphin Yoga Nidra and Painting with a Twist onsite as well!

Shining Starr: Cassandra's Best Of The Bay

We asked Cassandra the best way to make the most out of a visit to Clearwater Marine Aquarium along with her favorite things to do around Tampa Bay!

If someone was to make a day out of going to CMA, what are some of the thing you’d recommend before or after to do?

If you have a love for the ocean like I do, after your visit, make your way towards Clearwater Beach where you can go on any dolphin cruise, be out on the water, and witness wild dolphins along with other marine life.

Make your way to either Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill on the beach or Palm Pavilion where you can get great food for dinner, live music, and watch the sunset. Both restaurants have great views to watch the sunset. If you are in the mood for seafood, I highly recommend The Bait House. My favorite is the fish cake sandwich. Pier 60 is also recommended. 

What is your absolute favorite thing to do in Tampa Bay? 

I love being near the ocean and love looking for seashells. Honeymoon Island State Park is one of my favorites. I can bring my dogs with me to the dog beach and enjoy the sound of the waves.     

Do you have any local hidden gems?

One of my favorite things to do is kayak. I have a lot of great memories of launching a kayak from Cove Cay Marina where I can see the mix of mangroves, dolphins, stingrays, manatees, and Tampa Bay.



Which Tampa Bay neighborhood do you love the most?

Downtown St. Petersburg. It has everything, you could spend a week down there and still not experience everything. St. Pete Pier has a new look and is stunning. 

Describe your perfect day in Tampa Bay.

I like to walk Tampa’s Riverwalk on a beautiful Florida day when it isn’t too hot or humid. I love being outdoors, near water, and have several restaurants that are within walking distance. 

Excited about visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and exploring the Clearwater and Tampa Bay area? Let us know your favorite things to do by tagging @StuffToDoInTampaBay on Instagram and Facebook!

Todd Grasley

Todd Grasley

Todd lives in the Tampa Bay area with his wife and two kids, Gavin (7) and Lila (3). In his spare time, he enjoys spending time at our world-class beaches and rooting for the local teams that call Champa Bay home, Lightning, Buccaneers, Rays, and many more! He's excited to be a part of the UNATION team and share the stories that make our local community the perfect place to live, work, and play.

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