Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder — the only nonprofit organization responsible for rescuing sick and injured whales and dolphins in the Florida Keys — returns to in-person events with its third annual Connect to Protect Gala on Saturday, May 7.

DPMMR held its last Connect to Protect Gala in February 2020. Event organizers look forward to bringing DPMMR’s flagship fundraiser back to life.

“After such a long break, we knew we had to plan an event that would make up for lost time. In our planning meetings, we kept coming back to one word that became a central theme. That word is “re-imagined,” said Hunter Kinney, one of the event’s organizers.

From venue to lineup, Kinney said, the team has weighed every detail and aims to elevate this year’s event, while keeping the same “hometown” feel of DPMMR’s historic events. This year’s event will be held at the Playa Largo Resort in the Tavernier Ballroom and will again feature a three-course dinner, raffles and auctions, live music, DJs, entertainment and a bar open for the duration of the event.

Kayla Lucero, senior marine mammal specialist at DPMMR who took on a leadership role with this year’s gala, says she’s excited about all the new “little” details added this year, but is pleased to see that the ” os” of the event does not change.

“There are a few elements like the all-inclusive ticket price, DJ and dancing, and a great range of auction items that stay constant – and that’s how we make sure the event stays true to its brand,” she said.

The second annual gala has helped the organization raise more than $80,000 for marine mammal conservation — specifically for initiatives to bring a marine mammal rehabilitation hospital to the Florida Keys. Nancy Cooper, President of DPMMR, wants guests who attended this gala to know, “We still have all the money we raised for the Marine Mammal Hospital earmarked for an account and ready to go when the time comes. to move forward with the development of the (rehabilitation) facilities.”

DPMMR’s goal is to connect the public with its resident marine mammals and teach them about marine conservation so they are inspired to help protect marine life in the wild.

DPMMR had plans to begin construction of a marine mammal rehabilitation facility, which would have enabled the organization to provide long-term care for sick and injured marine mammals. These plans had to be postponed due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 shutdown. The DPMMR has not lost sight of its objectives, but has taken the opportunity to reassess the measures it will take.

“Like many nonprofits going through a pandemic for the first time, we have had to sit down and develop a new strategic plan, reallocate and diversify resources, and realign ourselves with our mission. During this process, we have effectively developed a new strategic roadmap for how we can accomplish our mission of protecting whales and dolphins,” Cooper said.

This includes measures to continually improve the welfare of resident animals and increase revenue from daily programming. Throughout the pandemic, the DPMMR has continued to respond to stranded whales and dolphins and to conduct research on local wild dolphin populations, initiatives that have been funded by proceeds from guest programs and donations to the corporate headquarters in Key Largo.

“The gala name ‘Connect to Protect’ is also our motto at DPMMR. Our goal is to connect the public with our resident marine mammals and teach them about marine conservation so they will be inspired to help us protect marine life in the wild, while generating the funds needed to support the work of on-the-ground conservation with people,” Cooper said.
The 2022 Connect to Protect Gala is scheduled for Saturday, May 7, with doors opening for VIP guests at 5 p.m. and general admission at 6 p.m. Some ticket options include a one-year DPMMR membership and access to the VIP cocktail hour and lounge during the event. More information is at The organization continues to fill sponsorship opportunities with local businesses. Ticket prices increase on April 15.

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