The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory

Thumbnail - Ecology“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated. Everyone of us has a part to play. Together we can work to ensure that the beauty of the wild places and wildlife will still be there for our children’s children. And theirs.” Gandhi – The preeminent leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India.

 

Today was the grand opening of the Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory, which is part of the University of Florida – Marine Sciences. The facility is located on the land side of A1A across from Marineland in what is considered southern St. Augustine.

Whitney Hall is part of the Whitney Labs at the University of Florida

The purpose of today’s grand opening celebration was to give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to the public about sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory has three prime objectives.

1 – Rehabilitation

The lab has leading edge, state of the art facilities and equipment to administer medical care for sea turtles who are ill or injured. Common issues for these creatures are: being hit by boats, line /net entanglement, ingesting plastics such as balloons and bags, debilitation (which is when the animals become covered in barnacles and are unable to move) and cold stunning (According to NOAA – “The term “cold stunning” refers to the hypothermic reaction that occurs when sea turtles are exposed to prolonged cold water temperatures. Initial symptoms include a decreased heart rate, decreased circulation, and lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and possibly death.”)

The treatment board at the sea turtle hospital. There is currently only one “guest” at the hospital.

This little guy was being given some fluids.

2 – Research

The lab is not only an animal hospital but a research facility as well. One of the paramount concerns is the understanding of FIBROPAPILLOMATOSIS (FP). It is naturally occurring virus found in sea turtle habitats that can cause both internal and external tumors on turtles.

The findings of the research have an impact on issues such as environmental health, human health issues and natural resources.  So, it is easy to deduce how vital the research at the lab is.

3 – Education

The facility offers a wide array of educational forums ranging from events like today where the public is invited in to see the facilities and interact with the staff, to attending lectures, to hands-on “scientists for a day” for the wee folk.

Alex learned about the rehabilitation of patient #1.

Alex learned about the rehabilitation of patient #1.

As I stated above… the purpose of today’s grand opening celebration was to give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to the public about sea turtles. Social instruction can be as simple as reminding people not to release balloons into the sky or allow garbage into the waterways.  Turtles ingest the plastics which is harmful to them on so many levels.

This volunteer was making a very graphic point about how harmful balloons can be to the sea turtles.

This volunteer was making a very graphic point about how harmful balloons can be to the sea turtles.

The public was invited to become a FRIEND of the labs and make a financial donation.  The lab received an initial start-up fund to equip the facility and get everything in place.  They now must fundraise to continue their efforts.  Alex’s spirit animal is a turtle and he has always had an affinity for them.  This was a no-brainer for us and we immediately signed-up as a friend of the lab.  We are looking forward to staying updated on the good work the lab is doing.

Here are some things I learned today:

Lisa getting her sea turtle education.

Lisa getting her sea turtle education.

  • There are only seven species of turtles throughout the world and five of them nest on Florida beaches. (You can see why the sea turtle hospital is so vital to the ecology.)
  • Typically sea turtles spend their entire life in the water with the exception of when the females come ashore to bury their eggs on the beach.
  • Sea turtles do not have the ability to retract their heads into their shells like other types of turtles and tortoises.
  • Sea turtles are cold-blooded, ectothermic is the proper term, reptiles that breathe air.
  • Sea turtles do not react well to bright lights.  This is why nesting areas are monitored and lights are typically turned off or are shielded so as not to disturb the turtles.

Today was a good day.  We really enjoyed this rare opportunity to tour the Sea Turtle Hospital.