By Mary Hladky and Steve Plunkett
Four-year-old Jack Gray of Boca Raton peered into Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s almost 9-foot-deep aquarium as Morgan the sea turtle lolled about the bottom.
Suddenly, she paddled toward the surface right in front of Jack.
“Yay,” he shouted. “She said, Hi.”
The nature center was teeming with visitors three days after city officials announced Jan. 10 that Morgan had returned from a prolonged stay at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.
In March, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had ordered that Morgan and another of the center’s resident sea turtles, Cane, be relocated after the city fired the center’s sea turtle rehabilitation coordinator and assistant coordinator.
Many had not heard about Morgan’s return and were happy to learn she was back.
“I think it is great,” said Jack’s 6-year-old sister, Ruby.
Gary Gladstein of Boca Raton visited the center with his son and grandson, Thomas, 12.
“We hadn’t seen turtles here in a while,” Gary said. “We love turtles.”
Thomas said that he has a strong interest in marine life and will be attending the Carolina Ocean Odyssey summer camp on Topsail Island, North Carolina, whose many activities include exploring the marine environment and learning about protecting the oceans.
“I like helping,” he said.
City officials announced Morgan’s return from the Loggerhead Marinelife Center on Jan. 10. But the FWC has not made a decision on the return of Cane, who was also moved to another facility.
David Anderson, the city’s sea turtle conservation coordinator, said Boca Raton is not planning any welcome-home activities for the latest addition to its Shipwreck Aquarium.
“We are just happy to have Morgan back and we are busy caring for her and making sure she is healthy and readjusted to her old home — and that she is,” he said.
FWC spokeswoman Lisa Thompson had little news about Cane, who was taken to the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center in Stuart.
“No decisions have been made about additional turtles at this time, though Gumbo Limbo has indicated they would potentially like to have a second turtle again. Further discussion might not occur until February,” Thompson said.
The removal of Morgan and Cane along with seven sea turtle patients from Gumbo Limbo last year was prompted by the city’s terminations, which came as part of a transfer of the care of the turtles from the city to the nonprofit Coastal Stewards. The group, formerly known as the Friends of Gumbo Limbo, has since hired a veterinarian and a rescue and rehabilitation coordinator and applied for an FWC permit to resume giving turtles medical care.
Gumbo Limbo’s turtle rehabilitation area is still empty. The Coastal Stewards moved its offices in mid-January from a building on Federal Highway in Boca Raton to another on State Road A1A north of Briny Breezes. The FWC is still reviewing the nonprofit’s application for a permit.
Morgan came to Gumbo Limbo after being rescued in 2014. A sub-adult green turtle, she was hit by a boat and her injuries caused her to be partially paralyzed in her rear flippers. As a result, the 119-pound turtle cannot be released into the wild.
The nature center is open Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Monday from noon to 4 p.m.
The facility’s nature trails are open every day from 7 a.m. to sunset. Admission is free, although visitors can make donations.
Parking at Gumbo Limbo is currently a challenge with three spaces in the small lot being made ADA-compliant.
Also, construction of a new observation tower and ADA-compliant access ramp has blocked part of the nature center’s boardwalk. The tower is scheduled to open this spring.