The Florida Aquarium cut the ribbon Wednesday on a sea turtle rehabilitation center in Apollo Beach. It will expand efforts to save endangered turtles - and increase public awareness of them.
The aquarium has rescued about 150 turtles since it opened in downtown Tampa in 1995. This will also allow the public to see how the threatened and endangered turtles are treated, said Aquarium CEO Roger Germann.
"Animals like endangered sea turtles are very charismatic," he said. "And they can serve as an ambassador animal to talk about all the complications that are happening in our oceans. So it's critical for the public to see these animals at some point both physically here, virtually here, learn about them."
Visitors will soon be allowed at the 19,000 square-foot center. It features five pools ranging from 1,500 to 25,000 gallons. And the sea turtle dive pool will allow the creatures to dive to 11 feet - testing their buoyancy, swimming abililities and whether they can dive for food.
Germann says getting the public involved in the rehabilitation efforts is critical.
"If you moved to Florida like I did and you love going out on a boat and seeing a sea turtle regularly, and that's what drew me here, I want to make sure that that's here for my kids, for my grandkids and beyond," he said. "So that kind of personal connection is very, very important to us, and very clear."
State wildlife officials said that 589 sea turtles have died since red tide blooms started spreading across the Gulf in 2017. That has killed more sea turtles than any incident ever recorded.
The $4 million center sits on land donated by TECO, just south of the massive Big Bend power station. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contributed $3 million; the Spurlino Foundation and other philanthropists donated $690,000.
And aquarium officials say their Animal Response Team - which manages their sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts, has been expanded through a $250,000 grant from Florida Blue.
Some sea turtle facts:
- Roughly 90 percent of all sea turtle nesting in the nation takes place on Florida's beaches.
- There are seven different species, including Flatback, Green, Hawksbill, Kemp's Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley.
- Of the six species found in U.S. waters, all are threatened or endangered.
- Some can live 50 years or more.
- Leatherback sea turtles can travel more than 10,000 miles every year.
- Green sea turtles can stay underwater for up to five hours.