Giving sea turtles more tomorrows

By Jody Conrad | Special to the Press Gazette

One of the many reasons to live on the Gulf Coast is the plethora of natural attractions that connect residents with the marine life that also dwells in these parts. 

The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center (NBSTCC), located in the Navarre Beach Marine Park, is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect endangered sea turtles. Lead animal caretaker Holly Forrester said the center’s focus is on conservation and research, while the action is all about rescue.

Pumpkin is a blind terrapin whose eyes and shell were damaged by her encounter with a boat.

“We’re right next to the pier, so we take the calls when an injured turtle is spotted or a fisherman accidently snags one on his line," Forrester said. "We have a golf cart equipped to handle rescues, and then we transport the injured animals to the Gulfarium in Fort Walton.”

The NBSTCC is education-minded. Part of their mission is to provide educational opportunities to the public, in hopes of inspiring individuals to adopt behaviors that share our marine environment. The center educates through civic presentations and community outreach programs.

Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center is located at 8740 Gulf Blvd. in Navarre.

“On any given day we’ll have 400 to 500 visitors and school groups,” Forrester said.

Paramount to their mission is teaching beach-goers how to "share the shore." They teach visitors five key points concerning sea turtles: removing trash, flattening sand castles to remove obstacles, leaving lights off near the beach at night, removing all toys and recreational items each night and, most importantly, never disturbing a turtle or a turtle nest.

Pre-schoolers from the Childcare Network learn about sharing the beach the with sea turtles.

The organization practices what it preaches. They host monthly "trash-bashes" and offer "borrow bins" on public stretches that allow departing visitors to leave their used beach toys and furniture for others to borrow and enjoy. 

The conservation center is also a memorable experience.

It is home to Sweet Pea, a non-releasable green sea turtle, whose story shows the impact human activity has on these vulnerable creatures. They also house tortoises Safari and FlipFlop, and diamondback terrapin named Pumpkin.

Holly Forrester shows off the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center's specially-equipped turtle rescue vehicle.

Displays and exhibits in the center focus on Northwest Florida’s unique coastal ecosystem.

The NBSTCC is located at 8740 Gulf Blvd. in Navarre. Their summer hours are 10 to 4 Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 12 to 4 on Wednesdays.

“It is our privilege to take care of injured turtles for the rest of their lives and to encourage others to be mindful of the creatures we share the shores with,” Forrester said.