Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, a great place to do Service Learning!

Shay reports on her great experience at Gulf Specimen Marine Lab

The Gulf Specimen Marine lab is a wonderful non-profit organization. They are located in Panacea, Florida. They specialize in marine life education and sea turtle rehabilitation. The Gulf Specimen Lab provides live biological supply to schools, Universities and aquariums for education purposes. They teach about marine life and conservation to the students and the public that come through their doors, and that they provide from their mobile Sea Mobile. Their Sea Mobile brings the educational experience to the public at festivals, schools and other special events. The Gulf Specimen Marine Lab has a needed mission to promote knowledge of marine biology, promote the protection of marine life and the marine environment. The Gulf Specimen Marine Lab is a caring and inspiring organization of people that really want to teach the importance of protecting our fragile marine environment.

            While volunteering with the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab I got a hands-on experience of what is it like to care for and protect many different marine animals. I took part in the cleaning and organization of the living ecosystems where the marine species are housed. I took part in learning about the different marine species diets and got to partake in feedings. I learned valuable information about the different species housed in the marine lab. I even got to harvest pink hydroid from the Gulf Specimen Marine Labs “living dock” to feed to the seahorse. My favorite part was getting to watch all of the hard work that goes into running and maintaining what is like a “living classroom”.

            My experience at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab really touched on some sensitive environmental problems that truly need to be addressed. The chapter that covers Marine Ecosystems really touches on a big issue that sea turtles face and that is trash or debris that is filling up our oceans. Trash is a large and sometimes deadly threat to sea animals. This trash can be anything from plastic bags to fishing hooks. At the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab they house a sea turtle research and conservation program. The sea turtle program was started in1964 and is the third oldest in the United States. In May, 2012 a sea turtle named Allie was rescued and brought to the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea. She is a loggerhead turtle that is said to be approximately 50 years old and weighting in at around 250 lbs. She was found floating, sick and weak. She was spotted by fisherman near Alligator Point Beach. The issue leading my connection of Allie to our Marine Ecosystem chapter and dealing with trash in the ocean is that when Allie was found she could not dive for food. She had a mass located under her shell, this mass was thought to be some sort of debris Allie might have thought was food. For sea turtles, plastic bags look a lot like one of their favorite foods, jellyfish. This is why people should be very careful about what they leave in our precious ocean. The animals might mistake some piece of trash for a tasty meal and end up sick or deceased from the foreign consumption.

            The chapter on Fisheries and Aquaculture has a relation to some of the marine species housed at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab. Loggerhead sea turtles are being threatened by large nets. Fishermen use these nets to catch a certain species of fish but often bring up more than just fish. Species like turtles and dolphins also get caught in these large nets and can often drown because they get caught in the nets, unable to surface to get oxygen. Using laws and guidelines for net fishing is very important. I feel that nets like these should not be used for fishing. There are too many other species that are getting hurt in use of these nets. Conservation of sea turtles is very important and I feel that everyone should be doing their part to protect them.

Another pressing issue that I learned about while working at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab is invasive species and their effect on the marine environment. The Lionfish is an escapee from aquaria. They are aggressive and poisonous. They kill native fish outright or outcompete them for food. Elements that are introduced into ecosystems that are foreign can create many environmental problems. Humans should be more careful about what happens with our trash, the fishing methods we use and even the invasive species we introduce into the fragile ecosystem of the ocean. The Ocean is a beautiful oasis of life that needs to be protected. We have to be more careful for the protection of the 70 percent of our sea-covered planet.

I really enjoyed working with the staff and volunteers at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab. They taught me the hard work and dedication that goes into running a marine lab. I learned what skills they use daily to perform their tasks. I learned about the conservation acts they are performing and on such a large scale. They help large sick 50-year-old turtles return to the wild and take care of the smallest of hermit crabs. Every species there counts from the largest to the smallest they are all important to help marine ecosystems run smoothly. It is a great experience to watch and learn from experts and see the love and dedication that the put into their work. With this hands-on experience with the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab I really understand the passion it takes to want to make conservation issues known and it makes me want to push even more to do what I want to do as a career, and that is to help environmental issues be known to the public and help come up with ways to fix them. The natural environment is all around us and it is so massive and extraordinary, I want to do what I can to keep it that way.


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