Sea Turtle Inc. looks towards future

From left: Sea Turtle Inc. Executive Director Wendy Knight, former Executive Director Jeff George and Sea Turtle Inc. Rehabilitation Specialist Chris Gorman surround Eggnog, an injured, juvenile Loggerhead sea turtle at Sea turtle Inc.’s rehabilitation clinic. Photo by Gaige Davila.

By Gaige Davila

Eggnog, a juvenile Loggerhead turtle injured by a fishhook. Eggnog is currently being rehabilitated at Sea Turtle Inc. Photo by Gaige Davila.

Sea Turtle Inc. has new leadership, but its mission remains the same, even as the facility expands perpetually, with further development planned at the 43-year-old nonprofit.

Jeff George has retired from Sea Turtle Inc., after working there for 28 years. He told the PRESS he came to the decision while he was sheltering-in-place, noting the world would change post-pandemic. 

“It became apparent to me that the world was going virtual, the number of people coming to visit Sea Turtle, Inc. was going to be reduced in the short term, and that there were people out there who have more expertise in online marketing, grant writing, corporate fundraising and along with wanting to fulfill some of my personal retirement goals, it became apparent that this was the right time,” George said inside Sea Turtle Inc.’s education center. 

Sea Turtle Inc. Veterinary Technician Nina Nahvi gives Eggnog an antibiotic injection while Rehabilitation Specialist Chris Gorman braces the turtle. Photo by Gaige Davila.

It’s inside this education center, which opened in 2018, that the most impact on saving sea turtles is happening, Wendy Knight, Sea Turtle Inc.’s new executive director, told the PRESS.

“(The education center) is our proactive, (the rehabilitation center) is our reactive to what’s happening in the environment,” Knight said. “When you see children go through the marine debris (exhibit), you see them engage: they see how they are contributing to what’s happening on the planet and they start to make and see connections between their inward self and how they’re impacting the world around them.” 

Knight said this was the vision of Sea Turtle, Inc. founder Ila Loetscher: to change our relationship with the natural world from transactional to communal. That passion Loetscher had for Sea Turtle Inc. has carried through the organization since her death in 2000. Knight saw an opportunity to use that same passion to further expand Sea Turtle Inc.’s reach. 

“When it came to making a decision about participating in this way, it was really about finding the place where that culture of passion and service is ready to go to the next level,” Knight said. 

Sea Turtle Inc. Executive Director Wendy Knight holds the hook that injured Eggnog. Photo by Gaige Davila.

Knight moved to the Island four years ago, after 28 years as an executive in insurance agencies, the latest being Chief Operating Officer of Pronto Insurance.

That next level, Knight said, is corporate sponsorships, online marketing and taking the facility to the visitor virtually. In the short term, Knight said Sea Turtle Inc. will be investing in online marketing campaigns and content for their social media pages.

As for the sea turtles, so far, George said, things are looking good and bad for the populations locally.

Local sea turtle populations are starting to recover after decades of conservation work. But rising sea levels due to climate change and the subsequent beach destruction from hurricanes also destroy sea turtle nesting sites. Increasing pollution, in the form of discarded fishing line or plastic, are human-borne impacts on sea turtle populations, too. 

To help sea turtles injured from fishing line or boat strikes, Sea Turtle Inc.’s flagship facility is still rehabilitating turtles, as it did with Eggnog, a nearly-80-pound Loggerhead turtle who bit down on a circle hook at the Jetties on Nov. 9. The concerned angler called Sea Turtle Inc., where Nina Nahvi, veterinarian technician, and Chris Gorman, rehabilitation specialist, retrieved the juvenile turtle. Nahvi and Gorman removed the hook, gave Eggnog an IV drip and antibiotics and microchipped their flipper.

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