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Sea Turtle Hospital To Open At Whitney Lab

Sea Turtle Groundbreaking Whitney Lab

Groundbreaking for the new sea turtle hospital at Whitney Lab.

Hundreds of people, both young and old, joined in to celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Sea Turtle Hospital at the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory in Marineland.

With over a year of planning and a generous start up gift, the sea turtle hospital will be equipped with treatment rooms, life support and surgery instrumentation, an elaborate tank system as well as a properly outfitted turtle ambulance.

According to Jessica Long, Director of Development, the Sea Turtle Hospital staff  is in the process of raising additional funds that will be used to outfit the hospital with the necessary equipment and supplies as well as looking for additional volunteers. “We always need volunteers.” Long said.

Sea Turtle Groundbreaking Whitney Lab

Director, Cat Eastman and a rendering of the new sea turtle hospital.

Dr. Mark Martindale, the director of Whitney Lab was there to introduce the board. He praised the volunteers and donors and stated the Whitney Lab was “on the cutting edge of research.”

Cat Eastman, the newly appointed Sea Turtle Hospital director spoke to the crowd and asked everyone in attendance to embrace the vision with her. “Turtles need hospitals too.” she explained. Eastman plans to expand the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education programs to spark the interest of future scientists. Most importantly scientist at the lab will be able to study the cause and cure of marine diseases.

Fibropapillomatosis (FP) is a disease that plague many sea turtles in the wild causing tumor growth at an alarming rate. Scientist at the Sea Turtle Hospital plan to explore this mysterious disease in order to treat and return the sea turtles to the wild. The scientific research will also consist of exploring what role the sea turtles play in the ocean ecosystems and how the turtles use our local waterways.

Sea Turtle Groundbreaking Whitney Lab

Jenny Holbrook and Sonja Zanders enjoy the day.

Jenny Holbrook, a sea turtle volunteer was on patrol on Saturday morning. “Two nest were evaluated and over fifty baby sea turtles went to the ocean this morning. It was so exciting.” exclaimed Holbrook. “In Summer Haven there are 57 sea turtle nest and so many more when you go south.” she explained, justifying why this location is the perfect place for the hospital.

“Everyone in the turtle community is ecstatic.” said Sonja Zander a volunteer with the Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station. “This hospital is needed in this area. The closest hospital is at Ponce Inlet.” she continued. According to Eastman it is like a pony express to transport the injured turtles. “From one van to the next and often the turtles don’t survive the trip.” said Eastman.

Sea Turtle Groundbreaking Whitney Lab

Juan Holbrook grew up loving sea turtles.

The joy and excitement was contagious as one traveled throughout the grounds of Whitney Lab on Saturday. Activity and information tables were set up for the visitors to help inform the community about this inspirational vision.

The sound of children’s laughter filled the grounds and ten year old Juan Holbrook, sat by his dad’s side enjoying all the activity. “I’ve known turtles since I was a baby.” he said. When asked why he thought turtles were important to protect, this fifth grader at St Augustine Public Montessori School said without a pause “Well, there is a food chain.” he explained. “It is important to protect the turtles other wise the food chain will get all messed up.” It is true that messing up the food chain would be a disaster.

“This has been a grassroots push for a sea turtle hospital in the area.” said Sea Turtle Hospital Director Cat Eastman. With the help of many sea turtle enthusiasts the vision will soon be realized. The sea turtle is an endangered species and with the support of this local community doing all they can in their own backyard, the sea turtle may have a better chance at survival. Pending FWC permitting the hospital is slated to be opened the end of 2014 beginning of 2015.

 For more pictures visit: SEA TURTLE HOSPITAL PHOTO GALLERY