National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation and FAU Marine Research Laboratory Hosts Grand Reopening of renovated research facility
BOCA RATON -- The next generation of sea turtle research at the Florida Atlantic University’s Marine Research Laboratory at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center officially got underway on July 29 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiling renovations funded by the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation.

Dignitaries from the foundation, the university, the City of Boca Raton and members of the local news media showed up to marvel over the fresh new look of the facility, made possible by $80,000 contributed by the foundation since 2013.

The renovations included a fresh coat of paint, new cabinetry, stainless steel lab tables, office furniture, overhead lighting, a refrigerator, and a washer and dryer.

Those improvements followed an overhaul of the second-floor public observation deck that visitors access as they tour the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Wood panels supporting the railing along the deck were replaced with glass so young children can see what’s going on below. New carpeting and lighting was installed. New video monitors show off the lab’s projects.

And new full-color information panels provide photos and details of the turtle species, habitats and behaviors studied at the laboratory.

Dressed in a button-down blue shirt adorned with turtles, khaki shorts and deck shoes, FAU Research Professor Mike Salmon greeted guests looking every bit like a scientist who thrives on working in Gumbo Limbo’s salty environment, across the street from the ocean. His comfortable style prompted one of the university’s officials to remove his tie, declaring he arrived dressed too formally.

An audience of more than 50 listened to words of congratulations by several of the visiting dignitaries, and then accompanied university biology students on a tour that showed off the improvements and provided an up-close look at hundreds of young loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.

Nearly 300 leatherback turtles are currently residing in bubbling seawater tanks at the lab. Tethered so they don’t crash into the sides of their tanks, the young leatherbacks were in constant motion, flapping their long flippers that, when full-grown, can extend to nearly nine feet wide and propel adult bodies across entire oceans.

At the lab, they are the subjects of a long-term study supervised by FAU Research Professor Jeanette Wyneken into how environmental factors help determine the gender distribution of hatchlings that emerge from among hundreds of eggs laid in nests along Atlantic Ocean beaches in South Florida.

Dr. Wyneken described how the lab functions and explained, “This is the only place in the world where leatherbacks are raised in captivity for any length of time.”

Meanwhile, dozens of young loggerhead turtles wriggled around in their own baskets, their shells marked with identifying dabs of nail polish that helps researchers track their weight, food intake and excretions.

Green turtles haven’t arrived yet, but “we’re waiting on the first green nest to hatch any day now,” said Stacy Crist, a technician at the laboratory.

Russell Ivy, interim dean of the university’s College of Sciences served as emcee of the ceremony and introduced the day’s guest speakers, including FAU President John Kelly, who noted that 2014 marks the university’s 50th anniversary at the Boca Raton campus that was founded in 1964. The lab at Gumbo Limbo represents “a precious opportunity to do natural resource work,” Dr. Kelly said.

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie called Gumbo Limbo “one of my favorite places in town” and “one of the jewels in our crown of the world class city of Boca Raton.”

Haynie noted that Gumbo Limbo and the FAU lab “is a wonderful example of the power of collaboration” by its funding contributors, including the city, the Friends of Gumbo Limbo, the Greater Boca Raton Beaches and Parks District, the university, and the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation.

University Provost Gary Perry, former Dean of the College of Science, said the FAU lab, when built in 1984, was supposed to be shared between the university’s colleges of science and engineering, but was initially “consumed by the College of Engineering.”

“Huge concrete blocks were suspended from the ceiling and sea water dripped down from them,” Dr. Perry said. “They were doing corrosion science for building oil platforms.”

But when the FAU Institute for Ocean and Systems Engineering opened in Dania Beach, Dr. Peter Lutz realized the potential for the College of Science to utilize the building and helped make it happen, Dr. Perry said. Dr. Lutz joined FAU in 1991 after several years at the University of Miami, where he studied effects of oil contamination on sea turtles. He also studied effects on turtles of beach renourishment and invented a satellite tag used to track turtle movements in the ocean. Dr. Lutz died of pancreatic cancer in 2005. He was 65.

Frank Wojcik, executive director of the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation, thanked foundation board members Helena Schaff, Carl Fisher, Mike Osborne and Sam Cassaro, as well as program manager Eileen Nesdale, who “coordinated the massive task of this renovation.” Other foundation staff members who participated in the renovation were Connie Versteeg, Wayne Kurian, Bill Muller, Kelly Flanagan and FAU public relations representatives Allison Jewell and Paige Garrido.
Mr. Wojcik also thanked contractors Chris Liptak and Parris Miller, who were guided by FAU laboratory manager Neal Tempel.

“Lastly, professors Jeanette Wyneken and Mike Salmon made sure that the changes we made promoted the teaching and research efforts of all of the faculty and students using this laboratory,” Mr. Wojcik said.

Noting that the university benefits from the thousands of visitors to Gumbo Limbo and the observation gallery above the FAU Marine Research Laboratory, Mr. Wojcik said, “It is our hope that some of the many children peering down from the gallery through the new glass on the observation deck may one day become aspiring marine biologists, perhaps even attending Florida Atlantic University and graduating from one of this country’s best programs for training the next generation of scientists in that discipline.”

With that aim in mind, Mr. Wojcik announced that the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation’s Elite Sea Turtle Society has generated $8,000 in donations for future graduate research scholarships in the marine sciences.
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