A plan unveiled today will bring plenty of new life to the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy – marine life, that is.
The New England Aquarium has announced it will lease and retrofit a 23,000 square-foot red-brick building on the property, turning it into the new headquarters of its Marine Animal Rescue Team. The building will also act as an off-site holding facility for exhibit animals.
Construction will be completed in phases over the next several years, with the first phase expected to finish in July. The rescue team plans to move into the building by November.
“The principal thing is that this new facility will give our biologists much, much greater flexibility to do their jobs,” said Tony LaCasse, aquarium spokesman. “It will also enhance our ability to bring in new exhibits.”
When animals are collected, they must be quarantined for 30 days before they can be placed in the aquarium's public tanks. This prevents the spread of illness and parasites, LaCasse said. The extra space will ensure that process is possible.
The aquarium is leasing the property from owner Jay Cashman, who is leading efforts to redevelop the Quincy Shipyard.
The new space will also be used to rehabilitate stranded, injured, and diseased marine animals found along the coasts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The team typically treats whales, dolphins, seals, and, perhaps most notably, sea turtles.
Anywhere from 25 to 150 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are found stranded each fall on Cape Cod beaches, LaCasse said. It is the most endangered marine turtle in the world.
During the summer, young Kemp’s Ridley turtles can be found on the south side of the Cape, feeding on crabs. LaCasse said they are probably then pulled north by a current that dumps them into Cape Cod Bay.
“Cape Cod Bay creates a big bucket,” LaCasse said. “They have to swim 25 miles north before they can start swimming south, and that’s very counterintuitive.”
As water temperatures drop, the turtles develop hypothermia. If the turtles get lucky, waves carry them onto beaches, where they are collected by volunteers and transported to the aquarium, where they get medical treatment that can take up to six months.
Since the early 1990s, the rescue team has rehabilitated over 500 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. The aquarium plans to make the new facility the center for this work.
“It’s an opportunity for us to help in the turnaround of a critically endangered species,” LaCasse said.
Although the new facility will not be open to the public, it may host open houses and field trips for local schools.
The building to be converted for the aquarium once was the hub of an important process in the manufacturing of oceangoing vessels. Hundreds of people worked there, fitting pipes with insulation that were later installed in the hulls of ships, Globe South reported Sunday.