Apollo Beach facility to provide advanced care for sea turtles

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The ribbon was cut Wednesday on the Florida Aquarium's new Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center in Apollo Beach.

The facility will better-equip veterinarians and aquarium staff to successfully rescue injured or sick turtles in the Bay Area and beyond.

The 19,000-square-foot facility has operating tables, laboratories, and tanks for turtles that become entangled in plasic, are sickened by red tide, or have been hit by boats.

"We've seen red tide effect sea turtles, frostbite. We're getting calls from as far north as New England to bring sea turtles down here," says Roger Germann, president and CEO of the Florida Aquarium.

Germann says the center can treat as many as 100 small to medium-sized turtles at a time. The goal is to treat them and then release them back into the wild.

The center's 11-foot deep dive tank is the largest of its kind in the state.

The aquarium's chief veterinarian, Dr. Ari Fustukjian says the tank will allow his staff to guage a turtle's ability to dive for food in the wild. 

"In a shallow pool, its kind of difficult to gague," says Fustukjian. "Sometimes they can get to the bottom, but they can't stay there. This will really let us see their ability to get down and stay down on the bottom for a period of time."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) funded $3 million of the $4.1 million cost of building the center. Florida Blue also contributed.

T ampa Electric Company donated the land for the center, near its Big Bend Power Plant.  

Currently, the center is empty, awaiting state approvals. Eventually, Germann says, webcams will allow the public to see the turtles being treated and people will be able to visit the center free of charge.

German says turtles at the center will be living teaching tools.

"Animals like endangered sea turtles are very charismatic," he says. "They can serve as ambassador animals to talk about all the complications that are happening in our oceans."

Aquarium officials say there are long-term plans to connect the facility with TECO's Manatee Viewing Center with a nature trail. They say it will be about a 10-minute walk.

The date on which the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center will open to the public has yet to be announced.