Turtle Hospital's opening draws thousands

Sea Turtle Hospital

Sea Turtle Hospital patient ‘Gunnar’ meets his namesake Gunnar.

Submitted photo
Published: Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 16:08 PM.

You “like” us!

Our first public opening for tours was the weekend after Thanksgiving, and all we can say is “Wow — you like us — you really, really like us!” When we built the new hospital we hoped that you would come. But the crowds on Friday and Saturday were far beyond our expectations. In fact, we lost track of exactly how many came after our thumbs got tired clicking the counter as visitors continued to stream through our doors. Best guess is that just short of 2,000 of you were there to see our turtles and their new home.

Once inside our visitors were free to roam the great hall and gift shop and peek in the windows of Sea Turtle Sick Bay (our ICU) before entering the observation deck in Sea Turtle Bay. Our volunteers were stationed between tanks in this main rehabilitation area, ready to introduce our patients and tell their stories. People were fascinated not only by our turtles but by the magnitude of this incredible space that we spent years designing and building. Sea Turtle Bay is nothing short of awe-inspiring, not only for what we accomplish there but for the spirit of healing, hope and light that the space conveys.

With the new water system giving us sparkling clear water and the elevation of the observation deck offering a bird’s eye view into the tanks our guests can now see almost every turtle currently in rehab. Of course our hospital ambassador “Lennie” is in a prime spot, near the door where the ramp descends toward the gift shop. He’s busy finalizing the details of his fan club, and boy has he been picky about all the perks he wants his members to have. We’re now trying to convince him that his picture on the T-shirt does not “make me look fat.”

A current patient in our ICU, a juvenile loggerhead is alive today only because one very observant boy was insistent that the turtle he saw struggling in a boat basin on Figure 8 Island was sick and needed our help. After the turtle was rescued and transported by Olivia Gaitros, one of our hospital volunteers, it was confirmed. This poor critter was indeed very, very sick. We named the turtle “Gunnar” in honor of this very astute child, and Gunnar and his family were there when we opened to check on the progress of our patient. As a thank-you for saving this turtle our director, Jean Beasley, escorted Gunnar (the boy) to the ICU to meet Gunnar (the patient.) It was quite an emotional but happy reunion.

We will be open for tours and shopping on the Saturdays before Christmas, Dec. 14 and 21 and also the 28th. Hours to tour and shop will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. In our gift shop you’ll find our logo and other exclusive hospital designed Ts, including long-sleeved Ts, warm hoodies and sweats, lots of youth and toddler items and an array of locally crafted jewelry, pottery, sea turtle art and exclusive to us note cards. Come with your list of names and sizes and your holiday shopping wrapped up.

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