Wicked Local photo/Ruth Thompson
By Ruth Thompson
Gatehouse News Service
BUZZARDS BAY —
There’s progress being made on the new National Marine Life Center (NMLC) marine animal hospital, and the sea turtle ward is nearly complete.
But work on the Buzzards Bay facility had to be halted due to lack of funding.
“There were some costs that were higher than expected,” NMLC President and Executive Director Kathy Zagzebski said. “Right now, we’re trying to raise about $91,000 for the turtle ward.”
She said the NMLC has already raised approximately $102,000 thanks to donations and fundraisers.
NMLC is a nonprofit marine animal hospital. Their goal is to rehabilitate stranded or injured sea turtles, seals, dolphins, porpoises and small whales. Once healthy and able to fend for themselves, the animals will be released back into the wild.
There is a crucial need for a marine animal hospital in this area.
According to Zagzebski, the 2009-2010 sea turtle-stranding season is the third busiest year on record. Close to 200 sea turtles have stranded on Cape Cod to date. Most are found suffering from cold stunning, a condition caused by exposure to frigid temperatures.
Without proper treatment, the turtles will die.
Zagzebski said nearly 99 percent of all stranded marine animals along Cape Cod and the shores of Southeastern Massachusetts will perish simply because there is no place to take them to be cared for and brought back to health.
“The New England Aquarium has a number of tanks for turtles, but nothing for the larger animals,” Zagzebski said. “It’s really important to have a facility for the animals here, where they strand.”
NMLC admitted its first patient, a loggerhead sea turtle named Eco, in 2004.
Eco had been suffering the effects of being cold stunned and had initially been treated at the New England Aquarium before being transferred to the NMLC.
After regular health checks and rehabilitation, Eco was returned in good health back to the wild.
The NMLC began to quickly outgrow the space in their existing building. The lack of adequate square footage, coupled with severe and irreversible structural conditions such as a collapsing roof, left no other alternative but to vacate the building, and so began an extensive campaign to raise funds for the new hospital and research building.
The hospital will be completed in phases, with the turtle ward being the first phase.
And while Zagzebski said the ward is “nearly 90 percent done,” there is still some major work ahead, including connecting the life support system and completing the plumbing, electricity and sprinkler system installation. A staircase leading up to the mezzanine level needs to be finished, and the main wall needs to be closed up to keep the building weather-tight and secure.
She praised the contractors working on the hospital for helping to keep the costs down.
“They’ve been fabulous,” she said. “Several are donors, as well, and have not only donated time and materials but have written out a check, as well.”
The new building will boast state-of-the-art equipment designed to provide the best possible care for patients.
The front north-facing wall will be comprised of a material called Extech, which is polycarbonate plastic.
“This translucent material allows natural light into the hospital, thus reducing stress on the animals and promoting healing. It will be like having one big window,” Zagzebski said.
The warmth and the light coming in through this “window” will be a benefit for the animals in the hospital.
Another important point about the hospital is that the option to quarantine animals in certain rooms or in certain pools is available because each pool will have its own filtration system.
Zagzebski said the hospital would be able to utilize the various tanks for more than one species.
For example, in addition to the turtles, seals could possibly be kept in tanks in the turtle ward.
She said the primary focus right now is on the turtle ward.
This ward will consist of six tanks total: two 12 feet in diameter and 5-feet-deep tanks, three 10 feet in diameter and 4-feet-deep tanks and one six feet in diameter and 4-feet-deep tank.
“Depending on the size of the turtle, we could feasibly take as many as 40 turtles in this space,” she said.
Three of the tanks in the turtle ward were partially donated. One tank was completely donated.
Design of the ward will allow for pipes and pumps to be concealed beneath the raised floor of the hospital, which would free up much-needed space.
Zagzebski said once the turtle ward is complete and open to animals, “we will shift our focus to the seal wards, then the dolphin pools.”
She said the larger pool could even hold a manatee, if the need arose.
“We’re building in a lot of flexibility with the pools when we can,” she said. “You never know what Mother Nature will bring.”
The largest tank (46 by 30 feet and 12-feet deep, almost 90,000 gallons) will be able to hold up to four dolphins, up to two porpoises or up to two pilot whales.
The second largest tank (30-feet round and 8-feet deep, almost 32,000 gallons) will be able to hold up to two dolphins or one porpoise.
“Just as an aside, although porpoises are smaller than dolphins, they are more solitary animals, thus they need more space,” she said.
Eventually, the clinic, which is now housed in the adjacent building, will be moving over to the larger hospital facility.
The second floor mezzanine will allow for veterinarians’ offices and lab space for the vets and the scientists. There will also be a conference room for meetings and educational programs.
“It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come,” she said. “Once we get the rest of the funding, it should only take about six weeks for the turtle ward to be able to start accepting patients. We’re so close.”