Beloved Mote Marine sea turtle gets new home

Author: Associated Press
In this Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 photo, a sea turtle named Captain swims in her tank at Mote Marine in Sarasota, Fla., Captain has been at Mote Marine, since 2014 so that she could be rehabilitated and work on her diving and floating skills after being hit by a boat many years ago. She now has weights on the back of her shell to help her but she will never be able to be released back into the wild. She was transferred to Broward County’s yet-to-open Carpenter House Marine Environmental Education Center on Jan. 4. (Rachel O’Hara/Sarasota Herald-Tribune via AP)

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) – Captain the sea turtle smacked her flippers together as she was lifted out of her tank at Mote Marine Laboratory Wednesday morning. It was likely the last time she would see the aquarium that’s been home for more than two and a half years.

After a nearly four-hour drive, which Captain spent in a foam-padded kiddie pool, she had arrived at her new spot: Broward County’s yet-to-open Carpenter House Marine Environmental Education Center.

For a turtle that was only supposed to be at Mote for three to six months, Captain made quite the impression on employees and volunteers. At her Wednesday transport, interns Hayley Richardson and Liz Thrun posed the turtle with signs they had made reading, “Booty-licious, we love you Captain!” Richardson also cut out rainbow-colored letters spelling the turtle’s name and placed them by her tank.

“She’s a good education ambassador and she never fussed going from one environment to another,” said Mote rehabilitation and medical care coordinator Lynne Byrd, who worked extensively with the turtle. “All the docents and interns and volunteers fell in love with her.”

Captain arrived at Mote in March 2014 after a cycle of aquarium care and release. She was initially found stranded on a Florida beach after a boat injury, then was sent to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where she was eventually deemed releasable into the wild. But only a month later, she was found stranded again. At that point, she was taken to Mote, where it was hoped she would still eventually be released, Byrd said.

The boat injury caused buoyancy issues, despite weights that Mote added to the back of her shell. She also had an unexpected habit: eating sand and pebbles from the bottom of her tank, which complicated her floating and diving. In 2015, Mote concluded that Captain could not be released into the wild, leaving the decision to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the agency responsible for finding a permanent home for non-releasable sea turtles.

A few months ago, the aquarium learned that the sea turtle had what animal lovers call a “forever home” where Captain would be the first – and possibly only – resident.

The Carpenter House is a historic home repurposed as a marine education center through a collaboration between the Broward County Parks Department and Nova Southeastern University. The house’s full-size swimming pool was remodeled into a space for Captain.

The FWC has “been involved with the design and permitting of the pool and everything else to ensure it’s everything a sea turtle needs … and probably a little bit more,” said the facility’s director, Derek Burkholder.

Captain’s debris-eating days are over. “We don’t have any sand and pebbles or anything in there, so it’s just a flat, clean bottom,” Burkholder said.

The Carpenter House is to open March 3. Not everything will be unfamiliar: Captain will be reunited with the Carpenter House’s caretaker, Amy Hupp, who previously worked with the turtle at the Georgia center.

“We’ve been working on this opening for a while,” said Cyndy Baker, public communications manager at Broward County Parks and Recreation. “This is an educational opportunity for people who are around here and visiting – it’s very exciting.”

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