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Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s new CEO shakes up leadership team

Joe Handy has named a new COO, a chief zoological officer, three vice presidents, a director of media relations and a director of sales.

  • By Brian Hartz
  • | 4:45 p.m. May 15, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO Joe Handy, who joined the popular nonprofit institution in 2022, has made his mark on its leadership team with several key appointments.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO Joe Handy, who joined the popular nonprofit institution in 2022, has made his mark on its leadership team with several key appointments.
Photo by Mark Wemple
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Clearwater Marine Aquarium has shuffled its leadership team, with CEO Joe Handy, who came aboard last year, appointing a new COO and several other key roles as the nonprofit institution begins work on its new manatee rehabilitation center and prepares to seek Association of Zoos & Aquariums accreditation.

According to a news release, Anthony Rivera, formerly of the Georgia Aquarium, where he served as senior vice president of operations and hospitality, has been named COO. He has also held leadership positions at Madame Tussauds New York and the American Museum of Natural History.

James “Buddy” Powell, the release states, will serve as CMA’s chief zoological officer. Prior to Handy’s arrival last year, he served as the aquarium’s interim CEO and he will continue to lead the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute.

CMA’s new vice president of marketing, meanwhile, is Dorree Gurdak. Prior to joining the aquarium, she served as senior vice president at Pollock Communications. She has been tasked with creating a new narrative for the aquarium following the 2021 death of its star attraction, Winter the dolphin.

Ruth Rosario, the release states, has filled the aquarium’s vice president of guest experience and engagement role. She brings 26 years of industry experience to the role, including a 17-year stint at the Georgia Aquarium and a decade at the American Museum of Natural History.

Handy has tapped Kathleen Mendoza to become CMA’s new vice president of finance. She previously served as the aquarium’s director of finance. She has also worked in finance and accounting roles at the Pinellas Education Foundation and Women’s Tennis Association.

Marsha Strickhouser has been named director of media relations. According to the release, she brings two decades of public relations experience to the role, having founded and operated her own PR firm, Real PR. Her resume also includes stints with Valpak Direct Marketing Services, University of South Florida, University of Miami, Dade County Medical Association, Palm Beach Newspapers and South Dade News Leader.

Lastly, Christine Sanchez fills the role of director of sales and revenue generation. Her two decades of experience includes successful stops at the University of Miami and University of Tampa.

“Clearwater Marine Aquarium has a storied history within the community and has built a reputation for the rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals over the past 50 years,” Handy states in the release. “As we look toward the future, we’re uncovering ways for our organization to be on the cutting edge of marine research, be more intentional in reaching a diverse and inclusive audience and continue to find engaging opportunities for marine life and conservation education.”



Brian Hartz

Brian Hartz holds a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University and has been a St. Petersburg resident since 2013. He has also worked for newspapers and magazines in Indiana, Canada and New Zealand.

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