community news

Whitney sea turtle rehab, research hospital opens in St. Johns County


A grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting for The Sea Turtle Hospital at UF Whitney Lab in St. Augustine took place Saturday, Oct. 24. Hundreds were in attendance on Saturday to tour the new facility and participate in family-friendly activities.

The sea turtle hospital will focus on three cornerstones: rehabilitation, research and education. There are four 1,100 gallon tanks that can hold up to four turtles each located at the hospital. Each tank has its own filtration system and the capability of using the center’s sea water system or it can be self-contained for quarantined sea turtles or for other special circumstances, for example, if red tide is present in the area.

The sea turtle center fills a void we’ve had here in Northeast Florida, sea turtle founding trustee committee member, John Perkner articulated. Prior to the opening of this facility, injured or sick sea turtles found in Northeast Florida had to be transported miles away for treatment, the closest treatment and rehabilitation facility being the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.

The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney will also treat turtles affected by the Fibropapilloma virus, a mysterious disease that impacts the health and well-being of sea turtles. Through the Fibropapilloma research initiative. Faculty at the sea turtle hospital will also be researching the mysterious virus in order to better understand it.

Director of the Whitney Laboratory, Mark Martindale, thanked addressed the crowd and thanked them for supporting the sea turtle hospital.

“I’m constantly amazed at the dedication that the local community has for sea turtles and for their natural world,” Martindale said.

“This opening of the sea turtle hospital here is an immense opportunity for biologists like us to learn more about the transmission of disease in the marine environment about immunology, about the ecology and behavior of sea turtles and there’s plenty of faculty, for example in Gainesville, that are interested in utilizing this facility and I think that you’re going to see enhanced involvement, and a bridge if you will, between Whitney Lab and the Gainesville main campus,” he said.

Martindale also noted that they have had constant support from the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida in Gainesville, as well as the Aquatic Animal Health at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Terry Norton, director and veterinarian of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. He also said that an emerging pathogens institute in Gainesville that’s also expressed a lot of interest in utilizing this resource for their own research. The Sea Turtle Conservancy located in Gainesville helped outfit the surgery center.

Funding for the sea turtle hospital was accomplished through private donors and a State License Plate Grant from the Sea Turtle Conservancy, making it truly a community and grassroots-type effort, according to Martindale.

The Sea Turtle Hospital at UF Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience is located at 9505 Ocean Shore Blvd., St. Augustine.

For more information, to make a donation to the Sea Turtle Research and Rehabilitation fund, or to join the Friends of the Sea Turtle Hospital, visit