Turtle ICU and Marine Science Center

July 13, 2011

Say you’re out on a friend’s boat in the ocean.  You see something on the surface, and it’s moving. As you edge closer, you see that it’s a turtle, possibly a Green Turtle, or maybe even a Hawksbill. You’re all smiles until your friend points out that something’s wrong. Then you see it. The turtle’s right front flipper is mangled, or its shell has a serious gash.  Who ya gonna call?

It turns out we have just the place not far away in Ponce Inlet — the Turtle ICU at the Marine Science Center. We finally ventured into this small facility and were thrilled to find we could view the ICU. On this particular day there were 11 turtles in the ICU for rehabilitation, 7 of which were juvenile Green Turtles, and 2 that were subadult Loggerheads.  Most were under care for propeller wounds.

Injured Juvenile Green Sea Turtle in the ICU Rehabilitation Tanks


More Rehabilitation Tanks in the Turtle ICU

We ventured inside, paid the $5 entrance fee, and roamed around the small center. First we checked out the classroom, where they hold summer camp teaching kids about sea creatures great and small. ( I wish we had had such camps when I was a kid!)

Matt watching a video in the Marine Science Center classroom

The educational displays are fun also. The Freshwater Habitat Exhibit contains Yellowbelly Slider turtles, Peninsula Cooter turtles and Chicken Turtles.  The Red Devil Cichlid, Suckermouth Catfish, Blue Gill and Florida Gar swim around the tank as well. But it’s the turtles that seek out all the attention from observers.


Attention-seeking freshwater turtles --photo by Matt O'Neill

Another display that naturally caught our attention was the shark display.  Here we learned that the Black Tip Shark is the most common shark found around the Ponce Inlet area, and the source of all those ankle bites.

Shark Exhibit at the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet --photo by Matt O'Neill

The Center may be small, but it is definitely educational. And the Turtle ICU is worth seeing several times, whether you’re a resident, or a visitor.  This is true Florida at its best.

The Tortoise without the Hare

November 10, 2010

Since returning to Florida I have seen more turtles than ever before. Well, actually they are tortoises. Gopher Tortoises to be exact.  Somewhere I read that all tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. While I don’t quite get that, I do find that the label tortoise fits these guys moreso than turtle for some reason.

As it turns out, there are many unique things about our Florida tortoises.

  • One thing that makes them unique is that they dig large burrows, unlike other tortoises which are content living under vegetation or in shallow burrows.  And these deep burrows are easy to spot. We see them everywhere and always wonder if anyone’s home. 
  • Another interesting fact is how the sex of their hatchlings are determined. It all depends on the temperature of the dirt or sand where the eggs are incubating — If below 85 degrees, place your bet on all males.  If above 85 degrees, they will all be females. 
  • They are homebuilders – for others.  Up to 250 different species bed down in their abandoned burrows, including indigo snakes, armadillos, and foxes.  In other words, don’t stick your hand in what you think is an abandoned burrow.

Florida Gopher Tortoises are listed as a Threatened Species on the Endangered Species List.  This is mostly due to loss of habitat, which has been the case for much of our wildlife.

Protecting these tortoises is no joke here in Florida.  Gopher Tortoise Services, Inc.  is here to assist landowners, developers, and anyone else who may have a “tortoise problem.”  And there is a Gopher Tortoise Organization that serves to educate the public on conservation measures.

While driving down a road recently, we came upon this Gopher Tortoise, so busy eating up the grass that he didn’t mind that we were slowly backing up to keep pace with him.