Published: Nov 13, 2012 7:27 AM EST
Updated: Nov 13, 2012 11:24 AM EST

SANIBEL, Fla. - Tuesday morning J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge will celebrate the debut of its new interactive Marvelous Manatees Exhibit with a week of unveiling activities, manatee education and tours, and new manatee-related items in the Refuge Nature Store.

The official unveiling with special speakers and exhibitors will take place at 9 a.m.

Funded by a grant from the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND), the exhibit will include suspended models of a life-sized manatee and her calf, interpretive signage, and a number of hands-on activities including a CSI-type forensic area similar to what the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service uses.

Charitable gifts to DDWS from John and Kathy McCabe and Bill and Annie Vanderbilt made it possible to have the skeleton of a local manatee articulated. It already hangs in the Education Center where the exhibit will be installed.

During the week of the unveiling, the Refuge Nature Store and Tarpon Bay Explorers (TBE) gift shop will be offering 10% discounts on manatee books, toys, and other related gifts.

Visitors can receive a 25% discount on TBE’s 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Nature and Sea Life Cruises and 9 a.m. Stand-Up Paddleboarding Tours daily during that time frame. At 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday of that week, it will host free Manatees Deck Talks.

“Our mission at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and
education” said Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik. “Education-wise, this exhibit will teach the tens of thousands visitors each year to the Education Center about anatomy, bones, and specimen study, as well as issues facing the survival of the manatee as a species.”

“People will learn about the manatee, fall in love with the special creature, and want to protect it,” said DDWS Executive Director Birgie Vertesch. “This is very exciting, and we are honored WCIND chose to support this important conservation project.”