Boca Raton, nature center and university unveil new digs for marine life

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Boca Raton Mayor, Susan Haynie, Florida Atlantic University President, John Kelly, Frank Wojcik, Executive Director of the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, FAU Provost, Gary Perry and FAU Professor Jeanette Wyneken (l-r) celebrate the renovation of the FAU Marine Biology Lab at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center with a ribbon cutting Tuesday
With hundreds of hatchlings squirming in the tanks below, dignitaries from Florida Atlantic University, the city of Boca Raton and the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center celebrated an improvement in their accommodations.

Over the past year, FAU's marine science research annex at Gumbo Limbo has gotten new paint, carpeting and toddler-level viewing panes, along with other improvements to support the sea life there.

These renovations are aimed at not only improving the inhabitants' health and current research efforts, but also inviting more of the tiny human troops to come take a look at what marine research looks like.

"It is our hope that some of the many kids peering down from the gallery through the new glass on the observation deck may one day become aspiring marine biologists," said Frank Wojcik, executive director of the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, which is based in Fort Lauderdale.

The annex was originally the home of FAU engineering department's research into how metal rusts, with the aim of building better oil platforms. Salt water would drip from the ceiling. The engineering scientists left years ago, but some of the aftereffects of their research remained: rusty door knobs and hinges and lights too far gone to turn on.

“Because of rotting lights, we had rust dropping into our tanks," said Jeanette Wynecken, an FAU biology professor who works in the lab. "We don't have to worry about that anymore. Part of doing good science is being able to control your environment.”

Also, getting a washer and dryer for the lab means she won't have to haul out a hamper full of turtle towels and filters for the tanks as she has since she started working there.

The National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation donated $80,000 for the renovations to the research lab and scholarships for the FAU students who work there. Mayor Susan Haynie had high praise for the collaboration that made the lab annex and its research possible, between the foundation, the city and Gumbo Limbo.
"The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is one of the jewels in the crown of our world-class city," Haynie said, calling it one of her favorite places in Boca.

John Kelly, president of FAU, called it one of the "treasures" he's been pleased to discover since arriving at FAU earlier this year.

Later, tours were given for attendees to get a close look at the research now in progress. Stingrays are there for a study of their mysterious electrical powers. And, as hatchling season is in full tilt, the lab's bubbling vats are filled with them.

FAU's Wynecken is studying how the temperature of the turtle nests determines the subsequent turtles' gender. And, since that doesn't become apparent for two to three months after hatching, these critters are going to be staying awhile.

And now it's going to be in better style.
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