An interview with:
Tom Longo, Senior Communications/Marketing Manager, Loggerhead Marinelife Center Hannah Deadman, Public Relations & Communications Coordinator, Loggerhead Marinelife Center Kerri Allen, Education Manager, Loggerhead Marinelife Center
Heals Turtles, Promotes Education
Over 40 years ago, Juno Beach resident Eleanor Fletcher started what is now Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) when she noticed the abundance of sea turtles nesting on the nearby shore during spring and summer. She observed that the turtles were threatened by the encroachment of people as they built closer and closer to the shoreline. She campaigned against bright lights along the beach (which confuses hatchlings and can cause them to head in the wrong direction) and personally protected the nests she found—but her chief goal was to educate children about the need for conservation and protection so that sea turtles survive over the long term.
Her vision is alive and well at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, which not only hosts thousands of school children each year through field trips, outreach programs, summer camp and other educational experiences, but also includes a state-of-the-art, full-service veterinary hospital, exhibit hall, outdoor classroom , research laboratory, and resource center. Park amenities include a guarded beach, nature trail, a playground, and picnic pavilions—not to mention a one-of-a-kind experience with some of nature's most charismatic creatures. It's no wonder that three decades after "The Turtle Lady” Eleanor Fletcher first wondered why so many hatchlings headed landward after hatching rather than back to sea more than 300,000 visitors come to the center each year to see the exhibits and the sea turtle hospital.
What species are most commonly rehabilitated at LMC?
Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s most common sea turtle species are loggerheads and green sea turtles. Occasionally, we get species such as hawksbills, Kemp’s ridley, or olive ridley sea turtles.
Where do the sea turtles rehabbing at LMC come from and what are some of the common injuries you see?
Often, sea turtles are found floating in intake canals or the Intracoastal Waterway in Southeast and East Central Florida. There are special cases, however. Last year, when more than 750 live strandings occurred in the Cape Cod area during the chilly winter, five of the cold-stunned turtles were relocated to LMC. Sometimes, anglers accidentally hook sea turtles while fishing on a pier or off the beach. Common injuries include chronic debilitation, anemia, hypoglycemia, entanglement, or the ingestion of plastics or other debris (which can often be treated with endoscopic surgery). Often, these injuries occur when a turtle is distressed or lethargic.
What can people do to reduce plastic ingestion by sea turtle hatchlings?
Avoid one-use items such as plastic water bottles and straws. Additionally, recycling and participating in beach clean-ups are small actions that have a big impact. Keeping the beaches dark at night, conserving energy, and keeping a clean beach are vital to the success of sea turtle nesting. Knocking down sand castles before you leave the beach and filling in holes are crucial for the survival of hatchlings and nesting mothers alike!
Who takes care of the turtles at LMC and how long do most turtles stay?
LMC's rehabilitation department takes care of the sea turtles. The length [of time] turtles stay depends on the injury or need of each turtle. It could be anywhere from 1 hour to 2 years. However, an average length of time for a turtle in rehab at LMC is around 4-8 months.
Situated on one of the world's most densely nested sea turtle nesting beaches, Loggerhead Marinelife Center works to protect sea turtles that call the ocean their home. Through innovative rehabilitation therapies, advanced research and conservation projects with 16 global partners, LMC's vision encompasses world ocean conservation in addition to its South Florida home.
Earlier this year, green sea turtles in Florida were reclassified from endangered to threatened by NOAA. What changed?
Part of the reason this changed is due to conservation efforts such as success of the Endangered Species Act and all of the government agencies, NGOs, and individuals who have dedicated their careers to the protection of marine turtles over the past 40+ years. However, it’s still crucial to protect these animals, as they are vital to our ecosystem.
I’ve heard some buzz about your Responsible Pier Initiative (RPI). What does this initiative do and who is participating?
The Responsible Pier Initiative was developed by LMC to help educate anglers and other pier-goers about responsible fishing practices as well as ways to reduce marine debris and respond to a sea turtle in the event of an accidental hooking or entanglement on the pier. The program provides signage, equipment, and first-responder training courses to participating piers—all free of cost. By educating anglers in responsible fishing practices, we have the opportunity to save hooked turtles while creating a safer marine environment for all wildlife. Currently, there are more than 40 piers involved, including those in Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Texas, and Virginia.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center's Responsible Pier Initiative was created to educate anglers and other pier-goers about responsible fishing practices, such as reducing marine debris and responding to a sea turtle hooking. The RPI program provides free signage, equipment and first responder training courses to more than 40 participating piers.
In 2015, you welcomed over 300,000 guests to your campus. Do you have any plans for expansion?
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, LMC is planning a capital expansion in hopes of allowing our center to rehabilitate more sea turtles, educate more students, and welcome additional guests and visiting conservationists and scientists from around the globe. Further plans on the expansion will be revealed this year.
From your educational programs to internships to providing a myriad of tours and activities, LMC does a lot of community outreach. Why put so much effort into communicating and connecting?
Our vision is to be a leading authority in sea turtle and ocean conservation. One of the most important aspects of raising awareness is through education and communication. LMC offers more than 30 public and educational programs, which helps promote the center’s efforts and inspire the next generation of leaders in ocean conservation. Our education programs provide an opportunity for students and visitors to become engaged in marine conservation, while fostering a sense of stewardship towards the natural world that will last a lifetime. Additionally, our growth and engagement on social media has elevated tremendously over the past few years. Although it’s not hard to convince people that sea turtles are adorable and important, we constantly work to communicate the variety of conservation efforts at LMC and how everyone has the power to make a difference.
With a full-time staff of 30 and an active volunteer base of 300, Loggerhead Marinelife Center constantly works to study and protect sea turtles through research and rehabilitation and promote ocean conservation through education and communication.
On a recent tour of your facility, the guide told us that honey is used to dress wounds on turtles. Why use honey?
Honey is used on sea turtle patients because it’s a natural and ancient remedy for the treatment of infected wounds. Because honey is supersaturated with a solution of sugars, its interaction with water molecules is very strong. Treating wounds with honey helps to stop the growth of microorganisms.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center's hospital staff members often use honey to treat sea turtle wounds. As an ancient and natural remedy, honey helps stop the growth of microorganisms
You are also expanding your reach to include Destination Eco-Tours. Can you tell us a bit about this opportunity for eco-travelers?
Our SWIM (Serving the World’s Imperiled Marinelife) program offers participants the unique opportunity to do good while adventuring through some of the world’s most beautiful ecosystems. LMC’s SWIM eco-tours include trips to Maui, Hawaii and Padre Ramos, Nicaragua where guests will participate in key conservation activities with local non-profit conservation partners—such as sea turtle monitoring and debris removal. The price of the trips include airfare, meals, accommodations, and all activity fees.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit education and ocean conservation facility located on the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach County, Florida. The facility houses a variety of exhibits, live sea turtles, and other coastal creatures. Exhibits include a massive prehistoric Archelon sea turtle replica, salt water aquaria, and displays of local wildlife as well as educational displays about South Florida’s marine environment. For more information, including how to visit or participate in activities, visit marinelife.org.