Kiddie Pools Full of Turtles (Not Kids) at the ELC

Heather Stapleton with a cold stunned sea turtle at the ELC, January 2010 (c)

One of the truly wonderful things about environmental education in Florida is that it includes a large network of centers, zoos, aquariums, and museums,  with a relatively small community of colleagues. Thanks to organizations like the League of Environmental Educators of Florida and the Florida Marine Science Educators Association I’ve been able to build and maintain some friendships with other educators across the state and learn tremendously from each places’ variations in approach to teaching styles, program design, and mission.

Two years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer time with the Environmental Learning Center down in Vero Beach on their lagoon days (field trips into the estuary systems for elementary school children in the local area) and meet Heather Stapleton, their Education Coordinator.  The ELC don’t usually participate in rescue or rehabilitation work with Florida wildlife, but during the recent cold snap, it was all hands on deck to assist turtles.  Thanks to Heather’s training and permitting through the state to work with sea turtles the ELC’s classrooms became a staging ground full of kiddie pools and cold stunned animals.

A total of 91 turtles came through the center and most were released from January 14 – 16th into area beaches like Sebastian Inlet, Hobe Sound NWR, and Juno Beach. A number of rescued animals showed signs of papilloma virus infections and were sent on to two wildlife centers in Florida equipped to treat the animals for the disease and will (with any luck) be scheduled for release at some point in the future.

As you can imagine, the ELC’s volunteers and staff had quite a wild ride and a few sleepless nights during the staging before releasing animals or sending them on for further treatment.  What I love about this story is that it highlights the amazing ability of Florida’s centers – whether they are education, research, or rescue oriented – to come together to fill a tremendous need on behalf of our state’s wildlife.

Like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Marine Science Center I’ve mentioned previously in other cold-stun reports the Environmental Learning Center relies on volunteer hours and memberships to further its mission of environmental education.  Obviously their mission is very close to my heart, and even more so since the center suffered a fire in the summer of 2008.  They are just now getting close to a grand reopening with a lovely silver lining: they were able to incorporate more green technologies into the new building that were not available (or were out-of-reach-expensive) when the ELC first opened.

If you find yourself in the Vero Beach area at any time do consider dropping into the Center, say howdy to the teaching team, and consider participating in their programs.