Teaching shore subjects
Volusia County, Fla., has constructed its Marine Science Center to expand educational and recreational opportunities for residents. The facility features an exhibit and display hall, an artificial reef aquarium, a classroom laboratory and a sea turtle rehabilitation center. This month, the center is opening an addition that will house injured shore birds and sea raptors while they are nursed back to health.
The initiative to build the center began in early 1996 as part of Volusia County Leisure Services’ Ecological, Cultural, Historical, Outdoors (ECHO) Program. County leaders wanted “to embrace and foster non-traditional recreational avenues and reach out to the public in more diverse ways,” according to John Crisp, special projects coordinator for Leisure Services and project manager for the center. “At that time, the Parks and Recreation Department, now Leisure Services, had recently assumed management of Lighthouse Point Park, and all we had in terms of marine science education was a rudimentary program where park rangers conducted classes for school children and nature walks. The ECHO initiative was undertaken to [showcase] the area’s natural and historical treasures, with the Marine Science Center serving as a cornerstone of that endeavor.”
The center initially was planned as a simple pavilion at Lighthouse Point Park. Under the guidance of Bill Apgar, recreation director, the concept progressed to a four-walled structure that would encompass a 5,500-square-foot exhibit and display hall, a 5,000-gallon artificial reef aquarium, a classroom laboratory and a gift shop. “Our rationale was that, here we are, surrounded by water, yet no one is teaching marine ecology,” Crisp says. “We wanted to let folks know how to take care of what’s in their own backyard, for themselves and generations to come.”
The county contracted with the Orlando, Fla., office of VOA Associates to design the center and with Orlando, Fla.-based Bellomo-Herbert and Co., Landscape Architects, to serve as lead consultants. VOA designed a Florida Cracker-style building that features a rough-sawn cedar exterior and metal roof. Exterior decking surrounds most of the facility, with visitor access provided by a handicapped-accessible ramp. Tucked away in an already cleared and protected area of the park, the center was constructed with minimum site impact, including no net loss of trees.
The exhibit hall, the center’s showcase, includes interactive dioramas depicting a cross section of the site’s natural habitat. The center also includes a wet/dry lab for students to study coastal environment biology.
Adjacent to the main building is a 3,600-square-foot rehabilitation center for sick and injured sea turtles that often are found on the county’s beaches during nesting season. Two full-time and three part-time employees, who work with numerous volunteers to care for the turtles, staff the facility. Before the center opened, the Volusia County Environmental Management Department’s two turtle patrols would transport sick and injured turtles to rehabilitation centers at SeaWorld in Orlando and Marineland of Florida. “There was nothing nearby that addressed our needs, and the distance to the nearest rehab center sometimes caused injured turtles to experience a one- or two-day delay before getting proper attention,” Crisp says. “Adding a sea turtle rehab facility was a natural progression.”
Owned and operated by Volusia County, the Marine Science Center opened in June 2002 and hosted 50,000 visitors in the first year of operation. “Before we opened, I would have been happy with 25,000 visitors our first year,” Crisp says. “Now, we’re extremely pleased to see double that number, including an average of 2,000 students per year alone. It certainly plays a major role in building the community by letting people know there is lots to see in their own backyard.”
This month, the center will open a 4,200-square-foot Sea Bird Rehabilitation Sanctuary for injured shore birds and sea raptors. The sanctuary is an enclosed, wooden frame building with various sized bird cages. County workers and volunteers will staff the facility.
The Marine Science Center’s total construction cost, including the Sea Bird Rehab Sanctuary, is approximately $2.5 million, almost all of which was paid for by grants. The county received $1 million in grant funds for the center from the Florida Inland Navigation District, which generates special district property taxes from counties that border the Intracoastal Waterway. It also received two grants of $500,000 each from the Volusia County Port Authority.