Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, Herb Doctor, and Other Profiles

This installment of an ongoing feature profiles the founder of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, and Ojibway herb doctor, and a Maine coupld who set up a salmon farming operation.

| September/October 1978

In celebration of little-known MOTHER EARTH NEWS-type folks from all over. 

Ralph Heath: Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary

The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is a thriving Florida home for thousands of injured Egrets, Gulls, Terns, Cormorants, Screech Owls, and other feathered gulf coast wildlife. And Ralph Heath—founder of the non-profit refuge—estimates that over 5,000 birds have been rescued, nursed back to health, and returned to freedom by his Sanctuary staff during the past seven years.

Heath is a young man with an obsession: to save as many sick and damaged wild birds as he can. His ambition which developed quite suddenly after a rather classic chance encounter. Ralph had just graduated from the University of South Florida in 1969 and had planned to return to school to study medicine. But the discovery of an injured Cormorant altered the direction of his life forever.

Ralph took the pelican-like bird to a local veterinarian who set its broken wing. Surprisingly enough, the Cormorant—nicknamed Maynard—survived and became a family pet for several weeks as Heath and his wife Linda nursed it back to health ... and added additional injured seabirds to their backyard refuge.

"That was it!" declares Ralph. "That summer I decided I had found my calling. A year later we established the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary and went to work saving waterfowl full time."

The first few years of the Heaths' new occupation were filled with a lot of hard work and struggle as Ralph developed new medication programs and unique "search and rescue" techniques. "The birds couldn't come to us, so we had to go to them," he said. "Once we got the emergency-hospital part of our operation under control, we even started making motorboat runs to find injured seabirds."

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