South Florida sea turtle hospital continues its legacy through programs and outreach
By Hannah Deadman
At Loggerhead Marinelife Center, it’s not just the hospital staff that helps sea turtles – it’s an entire team effort dedicated to sea turtle rehabilitation, conservation, education and research.
The sea turtle rehabilitation center’s 22-member team, located in Juno Beach, Fla., shows that even small non-profits can carry their own weight and responsibilities.
Juno Beach resident Eleanor Fletcher founded Loggerhead Marinelife Center more than 30 years ago. Her curiosity of sea turtle nesting inspired her to educate children about sea turtle conservation. After hosting educational classes in her home, Fletcher’s programs became the Marinelife Center of Juno Beach in 1990.
The LMC’s various departments include development, marketing, research, rehabilitation and education, which work closely together to ensure efficiency, support from the community and ultimately ocean conservation with a special emphasis on sea turtles.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center remains open to the public free of charge largely due to visitor donations and participants in the sea turtle adoption program, hosting more than 200,000 visitors every year. LMC also heavily relies on volunteers to help with various events and programs.
The 12,000 square-foot facility is also responsible for monitoring 9.5 miles of beach in Palm Beach County during sea turtle nesting season, which runs March 1-Oct. 1.
The research team monitors the stretch of beach from MacArthur Park to the town of Jupiter by conducting daily nesting surveys, including excavating nests and recording hatchling disorientation.
This past year, a total of 11,643 nests were recorded along the stretch, with 10,387 of them being loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nests. The others were composed of 988 green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and 268 leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) nests.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s survey range is one of the most bio-diverse, according to Adrienne McCracken, the field operations manager.
“The nesting beaches adjacent to LMC have some of the highest densities [of sea turtles] in the United States,” McCracken said. “It is also one of the few to host three species – leatherback, loggerhead and green turtles – on the beaches each season.”
LMC also focuses its attention on public education programs, including kayaking trips, nature hikes, children’s activities, outreach programs, camps and tours.
One of LMC’s newer responsibilities is its management of the Juno Beach Pier. In collaboration with Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation, Palm Beach County Environmental Resource Management and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, it developed the Responsible Pier Initiative, which promotes turtle rescue procedures, responsible fishing and debris cleanup.
Other special events are held throughout the year, including the annual Go Blue Awards, which recognizes local businesses and people who prioritize ocean conservation in their volunteer time, work or finances.
Last November, LMC’s keynote speaker at the Go Blue Awards was Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of oceanographic explorer Jacques Cousteau, who spoke on effective ways to protect the world oceans.
Kat Rumbley, marketing and communications coordinator at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, says the most rewarding part of her job is receiving feedback from visitors.
“Since I manage the turtle adoption program, I’ll sometimes get letters,” Rumbley says. “One boy wrote, ‘Please feed Poseidon some shrimp today. I know he likes that.’ It’s things like that where I remember why I do what I do.”
In addition to managing the adoption program, Rumbley writes Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s press releases and manages its social media presence. Since she began working at LMC almost three years ago, its Facebook “likes” have increased from 8,000 to more than 26,000.
Currently, LMC has 24 sea turtle patients. Many turtles are brought to LMC for injuries like shark bites, boat strikes or standings and are thoroughly examined by hospital staff before anything else. Often, the turtles suffer from hypoglycemia, anemia or chronic debilitated syndrome, a buoyancy complication that can occur when turtles are lethargic.
The hospital staff uses various methods, including surgery, antibiotics, blood work and injections to help rehabilitate the turtles. Another method, called total parenteral nutrition (TPN), provides the basis of nutrients needed from food, including amino acids, fats and sugars through a needle.
After careful observation, the hospital staff may clear a turtle for release back into the ocean. The turtle is then transported from LMC to the beach, and most of the releases are open to the public and the media.
For more information about Loggerhead Marinelife Center, call (561) 627-8280 or visit marinelife.org.