Recently we were invited on a trip to Destin, Florida with friends who had rented a condo and had extra space. It was one of those situations where I could think of a thousand reasons not to go (mostly financial), but then I realized that my kids are only little once and we have to make the most of the time we have together. Who turns down a free trip to Florida? Not me!
Destin’s most impressive feature is the turquoise water and white sand of the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. The water is usually placid enough for kids, even toddlers, to play in without getting battered by the waves. We were there during Spring Break so the beach was packed, but it did not take away from the beauty of the water. We spent evenings up on our balcony having a glass of wine and watching the sunset. That is my idea of a good time!
I managed to get sunburned (as per usual, thank you northern European ancestors), so I decided to take the kids to the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center instead of spending another day on the beach. Navarre Beach is about an hour’s drive from Destin, but totally worth it! Navarre Beach is less busy than Destin and has a different, smaller, more quaint feel. If you’re in Destin reading this, take the trip! It’s worth it!
The Sea Turtle Conservation Center is small but packed full of interesting exhibits about ecology and the affects of human litter on the ocean. They rehab sea turtles and release most of them back into the wild.
They have one permanent resident, Sweet Pea, a green sea turtle, who is missing a front flipper and has a damaged shell (either from a shark or a boat) and can’t navigate strong ocean currents well enough to survive in the wild. She will be at the center for life. She swims around her tank and visitors can get a good look at her.
The center is a non-profit and operates on donations. It only costs $5 to get in, which is a deal. I love supporting places like this because they give people, especially kids, a personal connection to wildlife. Meeting a sea turtle and learning how turtles are affected by litter in the oceans makes that kid more willing to pick up his trash when his family leaves the beach.
We also learned how the lights from the high rise hotels affect newly hatched sea turtles. The hatchlings follow the light of the moon to get from the beach into the ocean. When these huge hotels are lit up at night, they mimic the brightness of the moon and the turtles become disoriented. Some of them end up heading for the hotel where they are eaten by predators or die before they can make it into the water. The center is leading an education initiative to ask people to dim or turn off the lights in their hotel rooms during nesting season to allow the turtles to make it into the water. It’s interesting how our actions as humans have far reaching effects on wildlife that we never anticipated. Nature is a well oiled machine and so much of our technology is a disruption. One visit to the Conservation Center and I bet people would be much more likely to dim their lights.
Another interesting fact I learned at the center is the reason the sand in Destin is white. It’s made of quartz, a softer rock, that travels down rivers from the Appalachian region (the North Georgia mountains where I like to recreate) and ends up beaten into powder and washed up on the beach. On a camping trip the week before going to Florida, I had taken a picture of a piece of quartz my daughter found on the banks of the Toccoa River. The beaches on the Gulf are made of that kind of rock!
If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend the Conservation Center. Don’t let the small building fool you; the place is packed with interesting info, a cool gift shop, and a beautiful green turtle named Sweet Pea!