JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga., June 9, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- The Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which has delivered Jekyll Island to the forefront of sea turtle conservation and environmental stewardship, celebrates a decade of service and international acclaim this month.
To recognize the milestone, the award-winning, advanced wildlife hospital – and the only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility in Georgia – is hosting a public birthday bash June 10, plus a series of special activities each week throughout the month.
Reaching its 10th birthday is especially momentous because of the significant progress the Georgia Sea Turtle Center has made during that span as an organization distinctively committed to sea turtle and wildlife welfare, environmental conservation, and education.
The Jekyll Island Authority established the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which opened in June 2007, as a conservation program dedicated to protecting and restoring populations of sea turtles and other animals, through rehabilitation, research and education. Over the 10 years since, the GSTC has been heralded for charting new territory in the protection of coastal habitats for native and endangered wildlife – especially sea turtles – through field biology efforts and increased public understanding.
Now the coast's premier marine life rehabilitation, research and education facility, the center provides the public myriad opportunities to learn about sea turtles and see rehabilitation in action, through a host of interactive exhibits and experiences. It strives to connect people of all ages to nature and sea turtles, to inspire their imagination and embrace lifelong conservation values. Year-round indoor and outdoor programs are available for guests of all ages. The GSTC currently offers the public nearly 40 educational activities.
"The Georgia Sea Turtle Center has made extraordinary contributions toward aiding wildlife and educating the public. It's developed unique ways to connect people to nature and show them the need to preserve it," said Allison Schutes, Senior Manager of the Trash Free Seas Program for the Ocean Conservancy, in congratulating the Jekyll Island facility on its decade of achievement.
Even as it operates as a fully functioning wildlife hospital, the GSTC also is a Jekyll Island attraction, engaging the public during its everyday care of sick and injured sea turtles and other animals. Annually, more than 100,000 people from across the country visit the center, which is comprised of an interactive education gallery, treatment rooms, and a rehabilitation pavilion.
Education gallery visitors are invited to peer through a large window into a main treatment room, where various patients are treated by the GSTC's distinguished veterinarian, Dr. Terry Norton, and a team of outstanding technicians. It's a place out of the ordinary, a rare spot where one might get a live, first-hand look at intricate operations on sea turtles and other creatures.
Inside the rehabilitation pavilion, an elevated walkway allows the viewing of patients as they rehabilitate in specially designed tank systems. Fact sheets provide patient histories, and daily education and feeding programs furnish a more-interactive way for guests to learn about the patients and the care they are receiving. From the walkway, one can view many of the daily husbandry and veterinary tasks that take place in the pavilion.
In addition to various species of turtles, the GSTC has treated other animals native to Jekyll Island that have needed immediate care, such as alligators, snakes and birds – especially raptors and marine birds.
Over the years, the GSTC has tended to more than 3,000 patients of all kinds, including at least 1,100 turtles and 1,300 diamondback terrapins. The staff also has tagged more than 300 nesting sea turtles, monitored nearly 1,300 sea turtle nests, and recorded roughly 3,400 sea turtle "encounters," such as nesting activities and "false crawls" – occasions when sea turtles come ashore presumably to nest, but retreat into the water before laying any eggs.
The GSTC team publicly releases rehabilitated sea turtles throughout the year, whenever the patients are well enough to be returned to the ocean. These release events draw throngs to the beaches of Jekyll Island and other locations and afford audiences an up-close encounter with a sea turtle and a chance to witness the animal's dramatic return home. The powerful spectacle makes for lasting memories, especially for the hundreds of children who typically come to watch.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center's very first patient, Bevelyn, arrived from a Southern marine institute with a condition that prevented her from opening her mouth to feed properly. Following treatment and physical therapy administered by the GSTC team, "Bev" was rehabilitated to the point where she could easily capture and eat large natural prey, such as blue crab and horseshoe crab. She was released in late 2007 along the Florida Panhandle and still holds the record as the largest sea turtle ever released by the GSTC, at 212 pounds.
In early 2013, Mahi, a green sea turtle, was discovered seriously entangled in fishing line in St. Johns County, Florida. Rushed to the GSTC, Mahi had to have a flipper amputated and emergency surgery also was required to remove fishing line she had swallowed. But within a week after these procedures, Mahi, which means "very strong" in Hawaiian, was able to swim in a deep tank and began to eat again.
Multiple surgeries and treatments and special wound care were required for Mahi's ongoing recovery, and they all came at great expense. The GSTC shared her story, and soon Mahi had attracted nearly 1,200 "adoptive parents" from an adoring public, a record for the center. After intensive rehabilitation and care, Mahi was released along Vilano Beach in St. Augustine, Florida. Prior to her release, she was carried around to "say goodbye" to several hundred of her supporters by members of her rehabilitation team.
There are hundreds more stories like those of Bev and Mahi that speak to the impact the GSTC has had on protecting and restoring the population of sea turtles.
"The dream behind the Georgia Sea Turtle Center was to create a large facility devoted to both veterinary medicine and public education," said Norton, who serves as the director of the GSTC. "It is immensely gratifying that, 10 years later, this enterprise is still driving great progress in sea turtle conservation. Part of this success, I think, is due to the way we engage people. It's critical we inspire more citizens to embrace conservation values, especially as urbanization continues to affect the balance between humans and our natural environment."
The GSTC over the past decade has benefitted immensely from the spirit of volunteerism and public service. More than 47,000 hours of service have been logged by volunteers during that period. In addition, more than 259,000 hours have been provided by members of AmeriCorps, the nationwide public service program.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center's birthday party June 10 takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Entertainment includes live music, "Creature Features," and a special "Dunk the Doc" fundraiser.
For the full rundown of special 10-year celebration activities planned for June, visit Jekyll Island's GSTC birthday page. For details about vacations and other activities on Jekyll Island, visit jekyllisland.com.
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SOURCE Georgia Sea Turtle Center