JUNO BEACH, Fla. — The Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach has more than a dozen brand new tanks for rehabilitating sea turtles. But the center has no turtles to care for because of water quality issues.
The state told managers at the center recently that it could not take in any new turtles to treat until the water issues are resolved. The facility’s president is hopeful that it will not be without loggerheads much longer.
Before Loggerhead Marinelife Center opened its doors Wednesday morning, staffers released two turtles back into the Atlantic Ocean.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center CEO Kyle Van Houtan said it's a part of the center's mission. But the empty rehab pools at the center are disappointed vacationing tourists who are here to see the marine animals.
"What?" exclaimed Penny Sayler of Canton, Ohio. "No sea turtles here? What's up with that?"
Earlier this year, Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stopped the center from taking in new turtles to rehab because the quality of water pumped in from the sea was not up to par.
"We're working on these very issues right now," Van Houtan said. "Loggerhead's water system is working sufficiently, and it's suitable enough for us to start receiving patients."
So, why was the water quality substandard after Loggerhead Marinelife Center installed a $4.5 million system to pump in and filter seawater?
One Loggerhead board member believes a recent beach renourishment project near the center may be the cause.
"We're trying to find out what out there might have caused the silt, the sand stirring more to get into the system," said Karen Marcus, a Loggerhead Marinelife Center board member.
The facility remains open with education programs and a new gift shop. But that's not why most visitors come.
"I was really hoping to see some live turtles," said California tourist Anne Mahncke.
"It was a little sad," added her daughter Kelly Mahncke. "But it looks like they're doing a lot of great things there."
The center may be rehabbing turtles soon.
The state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Wednesday afternoon that the center has been cleared to accept turtles to rehabilitate.
The center's president said he expects new loggerheads and other turtles to be sent to the facility soon.