Weekly “What is it?”: Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center

A great blue heron poses on the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, with a backdrop of perfect Gulf waters. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

On any given day, a walk down the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier over the Gulf of Mexico will typically reward the observant visitor with what, for most places, is a rare treat—a sea turtle sighting. Today, on a 30-minute stroll, we saw four green sea turtles just yards from the pier. It was a sunny day with clear turquoise water, making visibility perfect. Because sea turtles are air breathers, most were spotted atop the water, floating or taking a big gulp of air.

The Navarre Pier is famous for sea turtle sightings, but infamous for turtle entanglements. The popularity of fishing on this long pier (the longest in the Gulf!) coupled with resident turtles on the nearby snorkel reefs have led the pier to become the #1 location for angler entanglement in the state of Florida. With the sheer length of coastline in our state, that is really saying something. For the last several years, the Navarre Pier has seen about 100 annual reports of sea turtles hooked on fishing lines.

A colorful mural on the side of the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Luckily, within walking distance of the pier is the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center (NBSTCC).  A team of a dozen certified turtle rescue personnel respond day and night to calls, working with the center to rescue and move sea turtles to rehabilitation facilities if they are injured. In fact, the rescue volunteers were able to free 55 of the 94 sea turtles caught in 2021 (and the rest freed themselves). The NBSTCC does not perform long-term rehab for injured turtles, but they can temporarily house them. The primary function of the center is to serve as an educational facility for residents, visitors, and schoolchildren.

Sweet Pea, a rehabilitated but unreleaseable green sea turtle, is a permanent resident at the center. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Currently, the facility is the permanent home to a young green sea turtle named Sweet Pea. She was discovered with two major injuries; entanglement in a net or fishing line that led to the amputation of a fin, and a missing chunk of her carapace from a boat strike. She is not a full-grown adult, but has a life expectancy of more than 70 years. Due to some internal injuries, she is fed a diet of turtle jello, flavored with seagrass, squid, and fish.

A display of several species of sea turtles, bones, and products made from the animals before they were given protected status. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

In addition to a large pool for Sweet Pea, the NBSTCC has several exhibits on marine debris, diamondback terrapins, lionfish, reefs, and the history of sea turtle consumption and hunting. Outdoors, two large rescued exotic tortoises (former pets) have their own habitats and are included as part of the educational tour. More than 40 volunteers, along with permanent staff, keep the center running. Thanks to an IMPACT 100 grant, the center is expanding. The new addition will have a dedicated area to house injured sea turtles until they move to a rehabilitation center. The habitat will be separated by glass to protect the turtles, but allow visitors to see them.

Sea Turtle Center hours. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

The Sea Turtle Conservation Center is open to visitors Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. Private tours can be arranged before the center opens to the public. Entry fees and information about scheduling school field trips can be found on their website. Go check out this local treasure and learn more about our local sea turtle species before nesting season begins next month!


Posted: April 19, 2023

Category: Coasts & Marine, Conservation, Natural Resources, Water, Wildlife
Tags: Coastal Wildlife, Environmental Education, Sea Turtles, Weekly What Is It

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