NAVARRE BEACH — Just shy of a year since it opened, the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center has lost its spokesturtle.
On Tuesday afternoon, the center announced via Facebook that Gigi was humanely euthanized Monday evening after weeks of declining health.
"(She) was surrounded by those who cherished and cared for her," the page said.
Gigi was the star of the NBSTCC when it opened to the public last August. The blind loggerhead turtle had been at Sea World since 1998. Marine biologists had guessed she was 10 years old when she came to the center. She was not a performing animal, but was a regular blood donor and contributed to research studies.
"It was a sad day for all of us," said Cinnamon Holderman, one of the board members of the NBSTCC. "She was surrounded by love. We want her to continue to be an ambassador for the center."
Holderman said Gigi had been showing signs of sickness for some time. In May she was treated at Gulf World for pneumonia and poor appetite. Last week, she was taken to Gulf Breeze Hospital to have a CT scan when doctors noticed some mineralization around her heart and deterioration around the brain. There was no positive prognosis.
"If there was something we could do to help we would've stopped at nothing," said Morgan McCallen, who coordinated care for Gigi through a permit with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "We didn't want her to suffer."
The center is closed through Wednesday to give staff time to cope with the loss, Holderman said. There are plans to be assigned another sea turtle, but Holderman said they are not in a rush.
"Even when Gigi was being treated at Gulf World, he continued to stay open and had a lot of visitors," she said. "People can still come in and learn."
McCallen said Gigi had touched all who came to the center. Since the center opened last year, there have been 15,000 recorded visitors.
"We loved having her in the community," she said. "She sparked interest and desire for people to do their part...that has meant the most."