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Sea turtles return to Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach

New CEO, veterinarian team take reins after turbulent year
Sea turtle at Loggerhead Marinelife
Posted at 6:24 AM, Aug 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-29 17:36:24-04

On Sunday night, Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach received its first turtle patient since April.

The turtle, named Percy, is suffering from a neurological condition possibly caused by toxic algae blooms.

In April, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told the facility it could not take in sea turtles to treat because of water quality issues, specifically a pumping system that brings in water without enough salt.

The problems were fixed briefly, but water issues resurfaced and the entire hospital staff quit in April.

A week later, Loggerhead CEO Kyle Van Houtan resigned abruptly May 3 after months of turmoil involving staff turnover, low morale and water quality problems that kept the turtle tanks empty.

Five weeks ago Loggerhead's new CEO Andy Dehart took a job knowing there is a mountain of critical issues to deal with.

"[Loggerhead's board] was very transparent with what had happened here, what were the current conditions," Dehart said.

As for the toxic water, Dehart is an expert having worked at three other similar facilities.

"I'm very accustomed to these really complex water quality, life-support systems," Dehart said.

As for fixing the complex's toxic culture, Dehart said he has a plan.

"I'm a hands-on person. I walk around the facility at least three times a day," Dehart said.

As for getting turtles back at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, that issue is solved as well.

"I'm really happy on Thursday of last week, FWC Florida's Fish and Wildlife Commission reinstated our rehab permits," Dehart said.

The center has also hired a world-class veterinarian team.

"They are huge shoes to fill, and we brought someone with really big shoes," Dehart said.

Chief Science Officer Dr. Heather Barron is now on the job.

"She is a rehab expert but has extensive experience with sea turtles even in the Cayman Islands," Dehart said.

"We're going to go ahead and treat [Percy] with a treatment that we developed right here at Loggerhead Marinelife Center," Barron said.

Barron got her first patient at Loggerhead Sunday and the center is getting back to business.

"I think probably nine parts relief and one part exuberance," Barron said. "We're very, very excited about it."

Percy arrived at the facility for help with a buoyancy issue.

"Luckily we've got the means to treat him and resolve this problem," Barron said. "And to really be making a difference for a species that's working so hard to come back from the brink of extinction really makes you feel like you're doing something to improve the world."

Percy is the first turtle FWC has routed to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in months and now that they have that certification they can continue to take in patients.

Permit from FWC allowing turtles at Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Percy is short for "perseverance." That is something that the staff and more than 300 volunteers have had to get through the last turbulent year.

Before Percy, visitors could see sharks and tropical fish at the facility, but the 26 empty tanks for loggerheads and other sea turtles needing rehabilitation remained empty much of this year.

The facility spent more than four months without turtles, but under new leadership, the state has given it the green light to begin rehabbing loggerheads and other turtles again.

Following this story, WPTV received notification from the Loggerhead Marinelife Center that Percy, the turtle featured in this story, had died from "neurological issues."