Executive Director

Patrick Rose is Save the Manatee Club’s (SMC) Executive Director. Pat has over 45 years’ experience working with manatees and is an Aquatic Biologist and Certified Public Manager. He is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on the Florida manatee. From 1996 to 2006, Pat was SMC’s Director of Government Relations in Tallahassee, Florida. In the state’s capitol, Pat advocated on the manatee’s behalf before the Florida Legislature and Governor and Cabinet. Before joining SMC’s staff, he was the first federal Manatee Recovery Activities Coordinator and Florida’s first Manatee and Marine Mammal Coordinator for the Florida Department of Natural Resources. He was also the Environmental Program Administrator for the Bureau of Protected Species Management, Division of Marine Resources, for the Department of Environmental Protection in Tallahassee. In addition, he provided overall policy guidance and direction for statewide recovery efforts for endangered and protected marine species. Pat has served as a member of every federal Manatee Recovery Team, presently serving on the Team’s Steering Committee, and is a former member of the I.U.C.N. World Conservation Union/Sirenia Specialist Group. His many professional awards include the prestigious “National Conservation Achievement Award” from the National Wildlife Federation and the “Award of Recognition” presented to him at the First International Manatee and Dugong Research Conference. Pat was also nominated for the esteemed Indianapolis Prize, which honors the world’s leading animal conservationists. Pat has a Master’s degree in aquatic biology from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He is also an avid boater, pilot, and is a certified scuba instructor.

Staff

Kerry Azzarello is the Bookkeeper for Save the Manatee Club. Kerry was born and raised in New Jersey and lived in California and Singapore before settling in Florida over 20 years ago. A former CPA, she has been working in accounting and bookkeeping for over 35 years. She is passionate about nature and protecting the environment. All friends and family who visit her in Florida are “required” to go Blue Spring State Park and see manatees in their natural environment. She is very excited to be working in an organization that protects such amazing creatures. Kerry is also an avid gardener, exercise enthusiast, and a volunteer at the local animal shelter. She lives in Apopka with her husband of 30 years and six rescue cats.

Cora Berchem is Save the Manatee Club’s Director of Multimedia and Manatee Research Associate. Cora was born and raised in Bonn, Germany, and moved to the United States in 2002. She holds a B.A. in Communication Studies from the College of New Jersey, an M.A. in Film and Media from the J.W. Goethe University of Frankfurt, Germany, and completed a graduate certificate in Aquatic Animal Health and Conservation at the University of Florida in 2021. Cora worked in film and television in New York City before becoming involved with manatees in 2013 when she made a documentary about manatees. Cora oversees the club’s live webcams, social media, and all sorts of video production projects, and assists Wayne Hartley with the research at Blue Spring State Park. Along with other agencies, she also oversees the Blue Spring Manatee Volunteer observer program during the summer months. Outside of work for SMC, Cora volunteers with the FWC manatee team and enjoys traveling, running, photography, and scuba diving.

Judy Bower is the Administrative Assistant at Save the Manatee Club. Her first experience encountering a manatee was at SeaWorld Orlando while vacationing, and it was “love at first sight!” Judy grew up in Michigan on one of the many lakes in Oakland County and would vacation at her grandparents in New Port Richey, Florida. They lived across the street from the bayou, but she saw only dolphins and gators there. After moving to Lake Mary, Florida in 2005,  Judy joined Save the Manatee Club. She enjoys learning new things about the amazing manatees. She is very proud and feels lucky to be a part of this team that is trying to keep the manatee around for many generations to come!

Cheyenne Canon is Save the Manatee Club’s Program Project Coordinator. Born and raised in Orlando, Florida, she attended the University of Central Florida where she received a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Environmental Studies. While an undergrad, Cheyenne became involved in environmental research and environmental education. She came to work for SMC in 2015 as a seasonal employee and was offered the opportunity to stay on full time. As a project coordinator she is tasked with supporting all aspects of the Club, including conservation research, designing many of our printed educational materials, and maintaining the integrity of our constituent database. She also coordinates several large projects including the Wishlist and the quarterly newsletter. Her favorite hobbies include watching television and searching for a new hobby.

Meghan Cohorst is Save the Manatee Club’s Director of Communications and Outreach. She was born and raised in “The Region” (Northwest Indiana) and first encountered manatees at the age of 14, in Homosassa Springs. Looking to be closer to her favorite marine mammal, Meghan attended Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and graduated with a dual degree in International Studies and Spanish. In addition to the conservation of manatees and their habitats, Meghan is committed to environmental and social justice and has nearly 20 years of experience as an organizer and communications/media specialist with workers’ rights and labor organizations. Meghan lives in St. Pete, where she is an aspiring Florida native gardener. She also enjoys reading, bicycling, paddleboarding, graphic design, and the Chicago Bears.

Kimberleigh Dinkins is the Senior Conservation Associate for Save the Manatee Club. Kim is a Florida native and attended the University of Florida where she received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science with a special focus on Environmental Policy and a Master of Science in Soil and Water Science. She has over 20 years of experience working with stakeholders to improve water quality around the state and is passionate about protecting Florida’s waterways for manatees and humans, alike. She lives in Ocala with her husband and two sons. On weekends, they can usually be found on a boat, fishing or diving, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tiare Fridrich (pronounced Tea-ahr-ray) is Save the Manatee Club’s Manatee Biologist. Tiare grew up on Long Island, New York and knew from an early age that she wanted to be a marine biologist. During high school, she conducted research on seal photo-identification techniques, worked at the local aquarium as an educator, and volunteered with the New York Marine Rescue Center as a member of the Rescue Team. She went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of Rhode Island with a concentration in tropical marine science. Tiare’s first experience with manatees was when she moved to Miami to pursue her M.P.S. in Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management at the Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science. She had the opportunity to participate in manatee photo-ID research as well as the yearly USGS manatee health assessments at Crystal River. She was inspired to focus her master’s project on manatees. For her master’s project, Tiare interned with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute to analyze the movements and behaviors of satellite-tracked manatees moving into Georgia via GIS software. As SMC’s Manatee Biologist, Tiare will utilize current research to work with agencies to develop and implement effective Manatee Protection Plans.

Wayne Hartley became a staff member in early 2010. Before joining us, he was a Park Ranger and then a Park Service Specialist with the Florida Park Service. For four decades he has served as Principal Investigator for manatee research conducted at Blue Spring State Park. This has resulted in a very extensive body of knowledge on the manatee’s life history and one of the longest running databases in existence on manatees. Wayne’s expertise and personal knowledge of individual manatees has been the basis of Save the Manatee Club’s Adopt-A-Manatee program. Through the adoption program, Wayne’s scientific data has been very instrumental in helping the public understand the manatee’s needs, the threats to the manatee’s long-term survival, and what actions members of the public can take to help. Through the years, Wayne has been interviewed countless times by television and print media and has received many honors from his peers. He has a degree in history from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Between school and the Park Service, Wayne spent almost six years in the United States Army Infantry earning the Ranger Tab and being awarded the Combat Infantry Badge.

Lisa Hauk (pronounced How-k) is the Membership and e-Commerce Specialist for Save the Manatee Club. Born and raised a Wolverine in the Mitten State, she grew up in Michigan in a little town called Hartland. Being from the north, she had never heard of a manatee. In 1990, Lisa moved to Florida and after many years of working in the tax and accounting world, she found her way to Save the Manatee Club. She lives in Orlando with her husband and two fur babies. In her off hours she enjoys swimming and spending time with family. Manatees have become Lisa’s new obsession, and she has “adopted” Merlin and Illusion and could not be more happy knowing she is helping such a wonderful and gentle creature.

Tonya Higgins is Save the Manatee Club’s Director of Development and Operations. Born in the red rocks of Arizona, raised in the industrial/agricultural environment of NE Ohio, and a frequent visiting resident of northeast Florida’s coast, swamplands, and enchanted springs, her intrigue with the vast diversity of life began at an early age. Tonya received her Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Ecology, Accounting, & Professional Ethics from Kent State University. There, she became heavily involved in an environmental filmmaking class sponsored by a local foundation, which provided her the opportunity to co-produce an award winning green film short. She also co-headed a popular student organization focused on bringing attention to social and environmental issues while simultaneously acting as the project manager of an unprecedented collaborative water quality-testing project. After graduation, she relocated back to Florida and joined the Club as our Development Coordinator in 2014. For Tonya, manatees epitomize the peace and tranquility she wishes to see more of in the world. The dedication of the people she works beside and the warmth and passion of the Club’s supporters drive Tonya’s fierce commitment to the Club’s mission. Outside of work, you will most often find her spending time with her husband, and family and friends. Tonya loves hearing from our supporters; you can reach her at thiggins@savethemanatee.org.

Alexandria Jays is Save the Manatee Club’s Director of Web Development and Office Logistics. Originally from the Puget Sound area of Washington, Alex grew up seeing Washington’s beautiful wildlife and learning as much about it as possible. After relocating to Florida as a teenager, she developed the same appreciation for Florida’s marine and aquatic life. She attended the University of South Florida and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. Shortly after graduation, she moved to Japan to teach English and look for new adventures. After returning to Florida, she reenrolled in school to obtain a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science and started working at Save the Manatee Club while studying. In her current role, Alex works with front-end and back-end website functions, office logistics and assistance, and software implementation. When she’s not working to help manatees, Alex enjoys water sports and watching sci-fi with her fiancée and cat.

Gina McClain is a Florida native who grew up in and around Lady Lake and spent many school and family outings in the lakes, rivers, and the oceans around Florida. It was in Crystal River that she first encountered wild manatees swimming “with” her in the water when she was very young. It was very impactful, and she has LOVED manatees ever since.
Gina enjoyed a successful career as an executive in retail, self-storage, and senior living, during which she moved around the US, living in many parts of Florida, Sandy, OR and New Orleans, LA. She also spent many years in New England, specifically Providence, RI and Brookline, MA, while working with major corporations.
After moving back to FL almost 22 years ago, her fascination and adoration for manatees was back in full swing! She was then able to participate live and in person after supporting SMC from afar by adopting Whiskers for her husband as a gift! For the past 4 years, Gina has volunteered with SMC at festivals, park clean-ups, and at Blue Spring State Park as a Manatee Observer. Gina also became a Florida State Park volunteer and is a member of the Citizen Support Organization, The Friends of Blue Spring State Park. With all of these volunteer opportunities, Gina has educated and interacted with thousands of folks about how humans can better support manatees by exhibiting the correct behaviors.
Gina is THRILLED to be our first Volunteer Specialist at SMC, as she has many years of servant leadership with volunteers as well as members of her teams. Please contact Gina to find out how YOU too can become a volunteer and help to support and protect manatees in your area!

Eric Merrell is the Program Logistics Representative at Save The Manatee Club. Eric was born and raised in Central Florida. Being a Florida native, Eric loves anything to do with the water and animals, always going to the beach or rivers when he gets the chance because he loves to swim. Manatees are one of his favorite aquatic mammals, “Being able to work for an organization that helps protect these amazing and gentle creatures is pretty awesome.” He attended Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Business. Eric lives with his husband in Orlando, FL with their variety of pets. Eric also loves food like chicken wings, chicken alfredo, sweets, and, of course, coffee!

Shelby Theisen (pronounced Tysen) is the Development Coordinator with Save the Manatee Club. She grew up in Wilton Manors, Florida, and spent most of her childhood outdoors experiencing Florida’s unique ecosystems. She’s always had a love for Florida’s gentle giants. During a visit to Blue Spring State Park a few years ago, she witnessed the manatees’ winter migration, which officially sparked her passion for spreading awareness on climate change’s impact on manatees and their habitats. She also has a passion for environmental education and going zero waste. In her free time, she enjoys crocheting and indoor composting with worms!