TAMPA, Fla. — Zoo Tampa-Lowry Park has re-opened the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center after completing a major renovation effort.

"We're really excited to get back to work. This has been a long time coming," said Dr. Lauren Smith, the Zoo's lead manatee veterinarian.

The facility has been undergoing a $3-million-plus enhancement to its water filtration life support system.

"It's really important for aquatic animals and especially critical care animals that they have great water quality," Smith said. 'So this filtration system has been completely overhauled, so now we can provide cleaner water, a cleaner environment for our critical animals."

Critical cases are kept in medical pools at first, but once they get better, they go out into the front pools and guests are able to see them.

Smith said the ultimate goal is to return the manatees to Florida waters.

"When you get to release these animals back out into the wild, I cannot explain to you how rewarding that is," she said.

The zoo received a grant to fund the project from the State of Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.