News Coverage

14 August 2022

AROUND WELLINGTON: Loggerhead Marinelife Center Focuses on Diverse and Inclusive Programming

Category: News Coverage

Juno Beach, Fla. (August 8, 2022) – The mission of Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) is to promote ocean and sea turtle conservation – and that effort requires all hands on deck, regardless of ability or background. To connect underserved and underrepresented groups to ocean conservation and appreciation, LMC has launched the far-reaching Oceans of Opportunity initiative with the help of several local organizations.

In collaboration with Clinics Can Help, a nonprofit that serves people with disabilities, LMC recently acquired a second beach wheelchair for use in the Turtle Walk, Hatchling Release, and Sunrise Nest Excavation programs. The Center also has sensory backpacks available for checkout at the welcome desk, and offers multilingual programming in American Sign Language (ASL), Spanish, and German on request.

“The availability of beach-capable wheelchairs is a great example of how LMC provides what we call ‘Oceans of Opportunity.’ They provide the opportunity for members of our community to comfortably and safely access ocean education – a right to learn that everyone should have. The generous donation from Clinics Can Help has helped us increase our impact, for which we are incredibly grateful,” said Hannah Campbell, vice president of the education division at LMC. She added that other supporters of the initiative include the Association of Science and Technology Centers, the Edward T. Bedford Foundation, REI Co-op, and Starbucks, among others.

In June, visitors used the newly added beach wheelchair on a Turtle Walk. “[LMC] allowed me to have an experience I will treasure as one of the most wonderful events in my life,” shared Elizabeth Merkling, who after a car accident in her 20s has used a wheelchair ever since. 

“She hasn’t been able to go onto the beach in a very long time, even though she loves the ocean,” explained Diane Perry, a close friend who joined Elizabeth on the Turtle Walk experience. “Some facilities promote accessibility, but the person still is not able to do everything. The Turtle Walk experience was completely immersive for her, and she said it was one of the best nights of her life.”

In July, LMC hosted the Family Center on Deafness for a Turtle Walk, which was led by Jennifer Reilly, research operations manager at LMC, and a full-time staff biologist who is deaf and fluent in American Sign Language. There are currently very few environmental education experiences offered in ASL, and Reilly has been a pioneer in interpreting coastal classroom videos, offering tours in ASL, and leading virtual presentations.

“I want to help guests who are deaf or hard of hearing to participate in tours of our Sea Turtle Hospital, or to fully experience our Turtle Walks and observe a sea turtle laying her eggs during nesting season,” Reilly explained. “Our efforts are expanded enormously when we can include everyone, no matter the background or barrier.”

LMC conducts guided tours and provides community and school programming in Spanish. The Center recently led a Turtle Walk in Spanish as part of Latino Conservation Week 2022 in partnership with the Hispanic Access Foundation. LMC’s multilingual programming also includes educational programs in German with the help of a longtime, German-speaking volunteer, Britta Steinhorn.

LMC is taking steps to become a Sensory Inclusive Certified organization. The Center currently has sensory backpacks available for use, which include headphones, sunglasses, gloves, fidget spinners, and communication boards.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s recently renovated and expanded facility offers one of the most advanced and unique experiences in ocean education and conservation. The Center is open daily and hosts more than 350,000 guests free of charge each year. Through Oceans of Opportunity, LMC is reaching a more diverse array of guests than ever before.

Written by Carly Cantor for Around Wellington. 

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