Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park has been active in marine animal rescue and rehabilitation for many years. The C.A.R.E. Center was developed in 2015 as a non-profit to facilitate and further our continued coastal conservation efforts. The program has helped to rehabilitate and release various species of sea turtles found in the Gulf Coast, from the Loggerhead, Green, Kemp’s ridley, to the Leatherback. Over the years hundreds of sea turtles have been rehabilitated and released back into the wild by the Gulfarium.
The Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center acts as a beacon for coastal conservation through marine animal rescue and rehabilitation, encouraging awareness with public education and opportunities for active participation.
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When a sea turtle patient arrives, it is evaluated by animal care and veterinary staff using guidelines from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. These guidelines give our staff the necessary information needed to evaluate a method for rehabilitation, recovery, and release.
Although every effort is made to release the turtle back to the ocean, occasionally a sea turtle is deemed non-releasable due to medical or physical limitations. These turtles are given a permanent home and full-time care here at the Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center
Along with the turtles being rehabilitated for release, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is also permanently caring for two Loggerhead sea turtles. They both originally stranded along the beaches of the Emerald Coast and have now been deemed non-releasable due to medical or physical limitations. Click here to Meet Our Animals and learn about rescued sea turtles and other animals that call the Gulfarium home.
Continue reading to learn more about recent Gulfarium Marine Adventure park sea turtle releases or what you can do if you find a stranded sea turtle.
What do I do if I find a stranded animal?
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How close can I get if I encounter a sea turtle?
Why do I have to turn off beach lights at night?
What can I do to ensure a clear path to the ocean for the hatchlings?
The Gulfarium Sea Turtle C.A.R.E. Program promotes rehabilitation and release of all stranded sea turtle species. After the appropriate medical attention and care is provided, as deemed by a veterinarian, the sea turtle is release back into the ocean as close as possible to where they originally stranded. Here are a few release stories from the past.
Leatherback Sea Turtle
Leatherback Sea Turtle
On June 25, 2015, the team from Gulfarium's Sea Turtle C.A.R.E. Program responded to a 5.5-ft. beached leatherback sea turtle in the Rocky Bayou backyard of a Niceville resident. It was presumed to be the same turtle that stranded in Tom's Bayou in Valparaiso a few days prior. While onsite, Gulfarium's staff and veterinarian gave an initial assessment, including blood sample collection and providing fluids. At the request of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and state officials, the 375-lb. turtle was transported to a temporary holding facility at the Gulfarium in order to provide further treatment.
Veterinary and husbandry staff did exhaustive diagnostic work including x-rays, ultrasound, blood sampling, and morphometrics. Through this and consultation with other experts, we developed a treatment plan specific to the animal's needs and are provided round-the-clock care. Historically, rehabilitation of leatherback sea turtles has proved challenging, including the fact that they are less aware of boundary surroundings and can potentially run into walls. The veterinary and husbandry staff implemented an innovative sling and tether design to prevent the turtle from running into anything, while still allowing for full movement of both the front and back flippers.
Ivy, Kale, and Hazel
All three green sea turtles were brought to Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park after being hooked off the Navarre Beach fishing pier at various times over the last few months. After undergoing successful procedures to remove the fishing hooks, Hazel, Kale, and Ivy have all completely recovered and have demonstrated the skills required for release, such as diving and eating without assistance.
Incidental capture in fishing line is one of the greatest threats to sea turtles. If such an event occurs, the best thing to do is safely secure the turtle and cut the line, leaving at least one or two feet of line. Do not release the turtle and do not try to remove the hook or line as this can cause damage. Immediately arrange for transportation to the nearest rehabilitation facility.
Grasshopper and Cricket
By the time he was released on July 7, 2014, juvenile loggerhead Captain Hook had nearly doubled in size since volunteer nest observers on Okaloosa Island brought him to the Gulfarium after noticing there was some difficulty in his mobility. With a safe environment and plenty of food, the turtle outgrew the issue and was deemed ready for release into deep water. Aboard a research vessel, scientists with the FWC and University of Florida executed a successful release into the safety of floating weedlines.
Wendy and Tinkerbell
Wendy and Tinkerbell, arrived at the Gulfarium in the fall of 2013 with very different ailments. Tinkerbell, a 20-lb green sea turtle, was missing her right front flipper and had several shell lacerations, likely due to an encounter with a shark. Wendy, a 14-inch long Kemp's ridley turtle, was severely underweight and having trouble diving down or swimming in a straight line. Both responded well to treatment, including stitches for Tinkerbell and antibiotics for Wendy and even despite the loss of Tinkerbell's flipper, the prognosis was good since turtles are very capable of thriving with just one flipper.
This green sea turtle was brought to Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in August of 2013 after inadvertently swallowing a fisherman's line while angling off the pier beneath Brooks Bridge. Fortunately, for the 12-lb turtle, the fisherman wisely contacted the authorities for assistance. The turtle, named Aaliyah, after the fisherman's niece, was transported to the park and given a full evaluation from veterinarians. After a successful procedure to remove the fishing hook, Aaliyah was thriving and was demonstrating the skills required for release, such as diving and eating without assistance. She was released on September 11, 2013 into the Santa Rosa Sound in Navarre Beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Three loggerhead hatchlings
All three turtles were brought to the Gulfarium between October and December of 2013. Two of the small hatchlings were discovered washed up near Gulf Island National Seashore and the Pensacola Beach Pier with trauma injuries to their flippers, likely from predatory animals. The third was found near an emerging nest on Eglin property on Okaloosa Island after the nest had been washed out by Hurricane Isaac. Each turtle was successfully treated during the winter and spring and despite their injuries, including missing flippers on two of the turtles, were able to dive and find food. Staff members from Gulfarium’s Sea Turtle C.A.R.E. Program, assisted by Captain Don Dineen of Sure Lure Charters, transported the hatchlings several miles off shore to a large patch of free-floating seaweed, which will provide food and shelter, giving the turtles the best chance of survival.
Our rehabilitation efforts are funded in part by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtles License Plate. Learn more at www.helpingseaturtles.org.