Deputy Jill Constant spends her 10-hour shifts patrolling the waters as a member of the marine and environmental lands unit for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Her duties range from apprehending intoxicated boaters to rescuing seabirds entangled in fishing lines.
Earlier this year, during a severe red tide bloom, the sheriff’s office received an urgent call regarding a distressed manatee near the Treasure Island Causeway.
Upon arriving at the scene, Constant could immediately sense something was amiss with the gentle sea creature.
Typically, manatees resurface for air every few minutes before submerging again. However, this particular manatee was struggling desperately to breathe and stay afloat.
With wildlife officials still hours away, Constant made a spontaneous decision.
She didn’t hesitate to jump into the water and embark on a daring mission to save the distressed manatee.
“I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t care if I was going to get hurt,” Constant said. “Protecting all species, protecting all walks of life is very important to me. And I’m aware of the risks and I’m OK with it.”
Constant, with help from two more deputies, held the manatee above the water where it could breathe for two hours.
“The manatee was very, very cooperative with us for at least an hour and a half,” she said. “You could tell that it was appreciative that somebody or something was trying to help this animal breathe.”
But as it regained its strength, the manatee began to get restless. Once wildlife agency officials arrived, they relocated the animal nearby, but far enough away from the red tide bloom that caused its distress.
“I do believe it was expected to make a full recovery because it was already feeling better when we were there,” Constant said.