Gumbo Limbo: World Class Research, World Class Destination

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Jace, a four-year-old boy walks the Boca Raton nature center with big eyes bouncing around the room trying to learn all the information he can from signs. Jace, who is with his parents, munches on pretzels and he seems more fragile than the juice box he is holding in his hands.

Jace’s hair hangs under his baggy backward red Jordan snapback hat. He also wears a blue jacket, somehow resembling the Paddington Bear.

The world’s largest hard-shelled sea turtle, a 300-pound loggerhead sea turtle seems to give Jace the willies. Jace tugs on his mother’s hand, until Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Coordinator, Whitney Crowder tells Jace,

“It’s okay. The turtles just come up to say hello.”

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The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is a museum and nature center complex located at 1801 N. Ocean Blvd. in Boca Raton. The complex includes exhibits, a nature trail, an aquarium, a gift shop, and other outdoor events.

Gumbo Limbo, which gets its name from a tree species, is well known for its turtle protection role. Every species of sea turtle alive today is either classified as a threatened or endangered species.

The nature center includes a sea turtle hospital that deals with everything from boat strike injuries to plastic ingestion.

One long-time resident Kraken, a 181-pound female loggerhead turtle, was found June 11, 2017, at the Indian River Lagoon, Kraken suffered injuries after colliding with a boat propeller blade.

One of Kraken’s eyes had to be removed and surgeries had to be done on her jaw. Gumbo Limbo coordinators spent several months helping Kraken get back to a healthy state, according to Gumbo Limbo volunteer Stephen Budd.

The complex also helps turtles with fishing hook removals, flipper repairs, tumors, and shark wounds.

According to Gumbo Limbo Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Coordinator Whitney Crowder, “Gumbo Limbo had a total of 66 sea turtle patients last year and 61 percent of sea turtles were released.”

Gumbo Limbo volunteer Stephen Budd, who has been doing two shifts a week for one year says, “Tracking sea turtles is very expensive, at least $2,500. It’s a blue chip connected to a satellite transmitter and the chip is attached to the turtle’s shell. It lasts about a year before the battery dies or if the turtles scrap it off themselves. This is how we learn about turtles.”

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Even if you’re a local and someone who is not all that familiar with environmental issues, Gumbo Limbo has much to offer and for you to learn.

Former Chicago resident and home installation worker Stan Rousonelos and his girlfriend have been told about Gumbo Limbo for a while, and they finally made the trip. Rousonelos’s girlfriend says, “My grandmother has been recommending it for the longest and the baby turtles are so cute.” Rousonelos added, “Just from the signs alone, everything is really informative.”

Similarly, 43-year-old Mike Conrad had some friends visiting from Minnesota, and Conrad thought it would be a neat idea to show his friends all that Gumbo Limbo has to offer. Conrad has been a fan of the nature center the last few months, and says, “Where else can I see some sea turtles? Today we learned about the type of fish turtles eat. Really fun and informative stuff.”

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 Gumbo Limbo’s goal is to inform all who visit about sea turtles while making it a shell of a time. Everyone from different age groups jam-packs the 16,000-gallon tanks, leaning forward, with eyes gazing, hardly blinking, almost for a fear of missing what the volunteers say. The volunteers at Gumbo Limbo do their best to inform all who visit on some educational insights.

For instance, green sea turtles can live up to 100 years and lay up to 1,000 eggs. But out of the 1,000, maybe two will make it to live a full adulthood life.

Another fascinating fact is that the sex of a baby sea turtle is due to the temperature of the sand. Here in South Florida, every summer gets warmer than the last which can cause a problem with sea turtles. Sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand, and the warm sand during the summer causes more females to be born than males. The solution isn’t getting these creatures turtleneck sweaters, but possibly taking better care of the ecosystem.

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Sea turtle rehabilitation coordinator Whitney Crowder has been a large part of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center since 2012, and she enjoys working with all the turtles. “I like the feisty turtles because we learn to like each other”, says Crowder.

Crowder also enjoys seeing how these turtles can grow from being the size of your palm, and then in seven months be 200 plus pounds.

One turtle that Crowder grew with emotionally was Carr. Whitney went on a plane headed to Michigan with Carr. “Not too many people can say they got on board with a turtle”, Whitney said in a laughing manner. Carr had to go to Michigan because the Michigan nature center had more room and Carr’s flipper injuries needed additional care that Gumbo Limbo didn’t have at the time.

Carr was rescued by Gumbo Limbo but they had to find Carr a new permanent home at the nature center. Whitney has stated this has been one of her favorite moments in the six years she’s been with Gumbo Limbo.

In addition, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center veterinarian Dr. Maria Chadam and Gumbo Limbo volunteer Henry Rose also connect with these turtles on a personal level. Chadam has mentioned that “Turtles have personalities, we have shy ones, aggressive ones, but they all come to the tank window to look at children.”

Chadam seems to really have a passion for turtles. After all, she wears a turtle pendant on her necklace with a matching bracelet.

Chadam also added, “Most people don’t know turtles have really soft noses, and after working with turtles your hands get really soft and slimy.”

When asked if a turtle were to lose its shell, would the turtle be naked or homeless, Chadam raises her eyebrows, chuckles, and says, “As much as I know, I don’t think I can answer that.”

Henry Rose can be found with his lips being stretched into a wide happy smile. He has a warm glow whenever he talks about turtles, and his smile is a ray of sunshine, that can cause a sunburn. Rose says, “These turtles come here devastated, and it’s inspiring when we help them.”

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If you’d like to visit, contact, or volunteer at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center located at 1801 N. Ocean Blvd. in Boca Raton, you may call 561-544-8605 or visit www.gumbolimbo.org

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Nile Fortner is a Multimedia Journalism major from Florida Atlantic University. When Nile isn’t at a bookstore catching up on new books and authors or eating the last slice of pineapple pizza, Nile usually covers entertainment journalism. Nile covers topics such as movies, television, local hot spot attractions, and more for some of the websites and publications he loves contributing with. However, during a class presentation at Florida Atlantic University, Nile found an interest in bringing attention to economic awareness and attractions. Nile hopes to inform and encourage people to care more about their environment the same way he was informed and encouraged.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful read Niles! Gumbo Limbo is one of Boca’s gems, and I felt like I was right along for the fun the way you described your experience meeting the turtles. Has any local school adopted the Sea Turtle as it’s mascot? If not I think we should suggest the sea turtle as the mascot for City Hall … costumes suggested but not mandatory 🙂
    Great job, hope you’ve got your eye on a few more local treasures to report back on in future issues

    • Hi Katie!

      Thank you very much for everything and I don’t think any local schools have a turtle for a mascot. Thanks again, and I’m looking to pitch another idea for us sooner rather than later. 🙂

  2. Well done Nile – great info – thanks for sharing. Gumbo Limbo is a wonderful place for adults and children. I’ve been to a few turtle releases and still get teary-eyed when I see them swimming back into their home after they’ve been rehabbed. Thanks to all in the rehabilitation center and volunteers for doing an amazing job.

    I’m trying to get a “bird sanctuary” in West Boca (South County Regional Park) – the birds also need our help – any interest Nile?

    Katie – LOL – turtle mascot for City Hall – good one.

  3. Thanks for the great article Niles! It’s such an awesome place and there is master planning effort currently underway to make it even better! Part of what makes it so great is the involvement of people like you and the volunteers in the community who believe in the importance of coastal and marine education for current and future generations. You may not realize it, but GL is a collaborative partnership between the City of Boca Raton, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District and the Friends of Gumbo Limbo (and FAU also has facilities onsite) Hope to see you at Sea Turtle Day this weekend (9am-4pm Feb 24th!) And please join and become a Friend!

    • Thank you for checking the article out and thank you for the nice words, it really does mean a lot to me. I’d love to go to the event this weekend, and I love that I got to share this with all of you. 🙂

  4. Great article. Gumbo Limbo is the city’s most visited attraction, and deserves to be so. GL is one of the really good things happening in these sometimes turbulent times.

    Please weigh in and say Thank You to all the volunteers and students who keep Gumbo Limbo at the forefront of things to be proud of in Boca Raton!

    • Gumbo Limbo is great and I’m glad I got to visit and share my experience at the attraction. I’m also glad I got to reach out and tell some students and family members about it.:)

  5. I’m happy to see so many positive comments – thanks again Nile. Being connected to nature is great for everyone’s health and what better way than spending time @ GL I recommend walking on their boardwalk to the end where you can sit and watch the boats along the Intracoastal – bring lunch. There is a pavillion with benches.

    I will email you. I spoke with Eric Call, PBC Director Parks & Recreation yesterday and I came away with a positive feeling. He’s open to the “bird sanctuary” and holding dog events @ SCRP. If the County doesn’t have the money, we can contact home developers – it’s time for them to give back to the community. I want rookeries on the various lakes for the birds to nest as well as a boardwalk around the lake near Daggerwing Nature Center.

  6. Makes me want to visit the next time I’m in south Florida East. Our normal activity is family stay, beach events and mall retreats. Would be nice to do something different.

  7. Well done Nile … great review of a treasured spot … please put it on the list of must do when I visit in the future

    I also want to commend you on sharing this topic, something that we learn from and can help in some way … thanks for keeping us connected to the important things in our world

    Blessing

  8. Earth Day Movie Screening

    Join Gumbo Limbo Nature Center as we celebrate Earth Day by hosting an outdoor screening of the documentary “Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction.”

    Event includes free admission, popcorn, and candy.

    We welcome you to bring your lawn chairs or blankets, sit under the stars and enjoy showcasing this movie with us.

    Saturday, April 21
    7:00 PM: Check in at the Welcome Desk in the Nature Center
    7:00-7:45 PM Visit the Outdoor Aquariums and Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility
    7:45-9:00 PM Movie

    https://www.gumbolimbo.org/savingseaturtlesmovie?returnTo=main

      • I love outdoor theatres – esp. when there’s free popcorn. Maybe we can organize the readers on bocawatch to meet over there – it’s always fun to see a face attached to a name.

      • I already registered. Would anyone be interested in meeting over there? It’s always fun to see a face behind a name and to get to meet another Boca resident. They’re going to have a large screen set up on the lawn in back near the tanks. I love an outdoor theatre & who can pass up an evening watching an educational flick with free popcorn. I can make up a bocawatch.org sign. I’ll get there around 6:00p and set up my folding chair. Hope to see ya there!

  9. Here is the schedule for the evening:

    7:00 PM: Doors open. Please check in at the Welcome Desk in the Nature Center
    7:00-7:45 PM: Outdoor Aquariums and Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility open
    7:45-9:00 PM: Movie

    If you have any questions, please call us at 561-544-8615.

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