By Steve Plunkett
The nonprofit trying to restart Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s sea turtle rehabilitation ward is expanding its focus to include human help for manatees, whales, dolphins and indirectly even penguins.
In June the Gumbo Limbo Coastal Stewards hired veterinarian Shelby Loos, filling the void left by Maria Chadam’s resignation in February, the group announced in mid-August. It also said it hired a rescue and rehabilitation coordinator, Kara Portocarrero, in early August and a conservation program manager, Kelly McCorry, last April, shortly after Gumbo Limbo’s sea turtles had been moved to other facilities.
At the Aug. 21 joint meeting of the Boca Raton City Council and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, John Holloway, said the group is “moving forward” on obtaining a state permit that will allow Gumbo Limbo to reopen its shuttered turtle tanks and reclaim its two resident sea turtles.
“And then additionally we are in the final steps of submitting the application for the actual rehabilitation permit that would allow the patients to come back to the rehab facility,” Holloway said.
Gumbo Limbo lost its permit in March when Boca Raton laid off the two city employees assigned to turtle rehab as the first step in a transition to having the Coastal Stewards, which had been funding just the veterinarian, take over the whole rehab operation. The nonprofit group also raises money for other aspects of the nature center.
“We’ve been working on things other than turtles,” Holloway continued at the joint meeting, “like working with manatees and cetaceans, which are small whales. We’ve been doing that work, too, here locally and in the Keys.”
Loos and the two other zoologists went to Tavernier on Aug. 14 to perform a necropsy on a rare Gervais’ beaked whale that died shortly after being discovered in shallow water.
They were summoned, Loos said in a news release, by Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder, a nonprofit responsible for the rescue of sick or injured whales and dolphins in the Florida Keys.
Loos spent a year working with Dolphins Plus after earning her veterinary doctorate in 2017 at the University of Florida and taking part in a residency program in Tampa, according to her LinkedIn résumé. She then spent eight months as an associate veterinarian at the Miami Seaquarium, 18 months at Island Dolphin Care, a nonprofit in Key Largo that offers therapy swims with dolphins for people with special needs, and almost two years at the Seaquarium again as a staff veterinarian.
She left the marine park in March, her résumé says, and started volunteering at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, which is keeping one of Gumbo Limbo’s resident turtles. She also offered her services as a relief/contract vet.
Loos’ patients at the Seaquarium included Lolita, the orca also called Tokitae and Toki that died unexpectedly on Aug. 18. Loos defended the killer whale’s treatment in February 2022 when PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, claimed Toki had pneumonia and was “not receiving adequate care.”
The orca recovered and the marine park retired her from performances the next month. Plans were being drawn up to send her back to her native waters in Washington’s Puget Sound when she died of what the Seaquarium said were thought to be kidney problems.
The Coastal Stewards plans to hire two veterinary technicians as part of the process to get its sea turtle rehabilitation permit issued from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The nonprofit also has started its Youth Leadership Council with four initial members. Its president, 12-year-old Anya Gupta, who lives in Lighthouse Point, is the founder of the nonprofit Pennies for Penguins, which aims to raise money for penguin conservation. Anya has already held a penguin fundraiser at the nature center’s front doors.
The youth council collected more than 200 pounds of electronic waste on Aug. 12 at the Delray Beach Children’s Garden.
“We are really excited and happy that all of this e-waste could be prevented from ending up in landfills because a lot of it is big stuff and can make a really big impact,” said member Caleb Caponera, 13, who lives on Boca’s barrier island.
The Coastal Stewards’ conservation program is not the same as the city’s sea turtle conservation team, which monitors, records and studies nesting activity and conducts hatchling releases and turtle walks to observe egg-laying.