Turtles and summer seas are part of everyone's idyllic images of the oceans, but the harsh reality is that all seven species of sea turtles are endangered. And many of those brought to the newly opened Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center have to be treated for tumors caused by oceanic pollution. The Center has been rescuing sick and injured sea turtles for twenty years but previously had to send them elsewhere for treatment.
Environmental Program Coordinator Kristin Child says that "After being licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on January 1st , a cold snap hit Florida stranding nearly 5000 endangered green sea turtles. Gumbo Limbo treated and released more than 177 of those turtles. In addition to treating these turtles for cold stun, 35 of those turtles also had surgery to remove noncancerous tumors from their eyes and flippers. These tumors are caused by a disease called Fibropapillomatosis (FP). FP is thought to have a strong correlation to polluted waters."
The Nature Center also houses a special sea turtle research facility run by Florida Atlantic University's Department of Biological Sciences, says Child, "A public gallery is open for visitors to view the facility. During the summer and fall sea turtle hatchlings can be viewed. Students are often working in the building and are happy to talk to visitors in the gallery." The research facility staff specialize in sea turtle behavior and habitat.
One of the Nature Center's educational goals is to inform people of the fragility of the seashore environment and their impact on it, says Child: "Our Center provides a unique opportunity to get a glimpse of what Florida used to look like before development of the barrier islands and to learn about the local environment and inhabitants up close and personal. If each person who visits us remembers one thing or changes one behavior in an effort to help protect our fragile ecosystems, such as recycling or using solar panels, because of visiting our Center, than we have accomplished our Mission, To increase public awareness of coastal and marine ecosystems through research, education, preservation and conservation."
Visitors can explore the four Outdoor Aquariums, the Butterfly Garden, the FAU observation gallery, Ashley Trail, Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility, and indoor Nature Center. The outdoor aquariums each represent a different South Florida marine habitat - the coastal mangrove community, a nearshore reef, and a tropical coral reef and an artificial reef with a shipwreck.
The Nature Center's programs include aquarium feedings, guided walks on the beach, wetlands and nature trails and sea turtle rescue camps. Many programs are specially designed for school age children. The local community has been very supportive of the Nature Center, says Child. "Through repetitive and increased visitation, memberships to and donations received by the Friends of Gumbo Limbo, consistent participation levels in our public programs, engraved paver purchases, and complete booking of school group field trips and camps each school year."
And for those who are too far away to visit but would like to help, she adds, "We also offer symbolic Sea Turtle Adoptions which are a great gift for any occasion."