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The Whitney Lab Sea Turtle Hospital Opens The Doors

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New surgical suite at the Sea Turtle Hospital. photo: 2015

Sea Turtle lovers of all ages were on hand Saturday morning for the Grand Opening of The Whitney Lab for Marine Bioscience Sea Turtle Hospital at Marineland. What started as a dream over 40 years ago has finally come to fruition.

In the 1970s, Cornelius Vanderbilt (Sonny)Whitney, donated two acres of land in Marineland to the University Of Florida. Because of his love of the ocean and his dedication to marine life; Whitney was one of the founding members of Marineland, he also donated half the construction cost for the building of The Whitney Laboratory for Marine BioScience.

For the first forty years the main focus of the facility was for biomedical research and biotechnology. This full time University of Florida research facility has over 50 researchers, staff and college students involved in the faculty led research laboratories. These professionally trained research and experimental biologist will have the ability to go into the future with the training needed to keep our oceans and marine life surviving in an unpredictable world.

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Dr Martindale speaks to the crowds. photo: 2015

“The need to have a facility like this in the area was great,” explained  Dr. Mark Martindale, the current Director of Whitney Laboratories. “It use to take a three hour “pony express” trip to the the nearest sea turtle hospital, past Daytona,” he continued.

Along with the University of Florida training facility, the Whitney Laboratory also provides local K – 12 students a marine focused STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) outreach program and public lecture series. The goal is to increase community engagement in lifelong learning and marine science.

“We are here to share our resources with as many people as we can,” said Dr. Mark Martindale.  “Last year we had over 4,000 kids come through our STEM Program.”

“I am amazed at the dedication of our volunteers. We have over 40 Docents who are trained to teach the students. It is a real part of the community,” Martindale shared.

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Devon Rollinson, a Vet Tech at the hospital. photo 2015

After finally obtaining the needed permits from the state of Florida, the Sea Turtle Hospital is ready to open its doors to rescued turtles. A main component of the hospital are the four 1,100 gallon tanks that can hold four turtles each. A specially designed filtration system, using sea water will make the turtles feel right at home. If needed, each tank can be completely self contained which is important for quarantined turtles fighting the mystery disease Fibropapillomatosis (FP), or if red tide is present in the area.

“The FP virus is everywhere,” said Martindale, “”We need to understand how the disease works. We are trying to find a cure.”

Funds have been secured from private donations, The University of Florida and various grants including a State License Plate Grant from the Sea Turtle Conservancy. The monies collect have been used to provide a state of the art medical treatment facility including: a surgical suit, x-ray machines, a fully equipped kitchen, turtle tanks, a cistern filtration system and more.

“There is such a high demand for a facility like this in the area,” said Devon Rollinson, a Vet Tech at the hospital. ‘There are turtle hatchlings that wash back and the inner-coastal is a hot spot for juveniles.”

The hundreds on hand Saturday would have to agree with Rollinson. North Florida finally has a Sea Turtle Hospital for the endangered species that they love so much. “Everyone is welcome when they want to come back,” said Martindale as he observed the crowds. By the looks of it…they will be back to help support this much needed facility.

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Help Sea Turtles, choose a license plate. photo 2015

Donations to the hospital are welcomed to help support the operations. Those interested can join the Friends of the Sea Turtle Hospital. Contact Jessica Long, Development Officer at (904) 461-4018 or give online