As the former marine conservationist for the city of Boca Raton from 1995 to 2021, I have watched the developments at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and the actions of the nonprofit Gumbo Limbo Coastal Stewards.

The Coastal Stewards have been in existence for about three years at Gumbo Limbo. What have they done with your hard-earned donation money in those few years?

The Coastal Stewards allowed the Gumbo Limbo Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility to close, with no indication of its return. There would have been no interruption in the facility’s operation if the Coastal Stewards had offered the city-employed permit holder and her staff the same jobs.

Recently, the Gumbo Limbo Coastal Stewards dropped “Gumbo Limbo” from their name, seemingly severing their allegiance to Gumbo Limbo. Now, they claim to have been educating the public for the last 40 years, even though Gordon Gilbert, a Palm Beach County schoolteacher, and the Palm Beach County School District ran the educational programs. The city and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District continue to fund education staff, with little or no support from the Coastal Stewards.

More recently, I saw a post on the Coastal Stewards Facebook page about the return of Morgan, a disabled sea turtle that resided at Gumbo Limbo for years. The morning after the Coastal Stewards allowed the sea turtle rehabilitation program to shut down, Morgan was sent to a facility that could care for her.

The recent return of Morgan was due entirely to the experience and dedication of the city’s existing sea turtle conservation coordinator, who played a pivotal role in ensuring Morgan’s well-being. It is questionable if the Coastal Stewards are paying anything for the support of Morgan.

A recent check of the Coastal Stewards’ website indicates that they are now expanding their purview to marine mammals and manatees in addition to sea turtles, although they have done nothing with sea turtles since March 2023 at Gumbo Limbo. I find this interesting, as city staff are trained to handle marine mammal and manatee strandings. Why would Coastal Stewards try to duplicate this effort with their own staff?

From what I can tell from tax forms, the Coastal Stewards are paying more for salaries while donations decline. It took the Coastal Stewards less than three years to defund the original Friends of Gumbo Limbo nonprofit, the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility and educational programs. It’s time for the city of Boca Raton to break any ties with the Coastal Stewards, as they no longer represent the interests of Gumbo Limbo and the city of Boca Raton.

If you’re fortunate enough to donate money to a cause, I advise avoiding Coastal Stewards. The money appears to go toward paying salaries for Coastal Stewards staff and not benefiting Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

Dr. Kirt Rusenko
former marine conservationist,
city of Boca Raton

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