Turtle Back to add Sea Turtle Recovery Center to zoo

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. announced June 10 that a Sea Turtle Recovery Center will be developed at Turtle Back Zoo. The new facility will enable Turtle Back to enhance its mission of promoting conservation and preservation, and create a sanctuary to nurture and assist the Zoo’s namesake animals.

“We are always looking for new opportunities to expand our preservation and education programs and heighten our visitors’ awareness about the importance of animals and the environment,” DiVincenzo said in a press release. “To be able to develop a Sea Turtle Rescue center here in Essex County and help the very animals after which our zoo is named will provide a great resource to the animal rescue community and fill a great need. This project is a great example of how zoos and animal rescue organizations can work together to save animals and raise the public’s awareness about the dangers animals face.”

All six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are threatened or endangered. They face accidental capture from getting tangled in fishing gear and are losing natural nesting and feeding sites because of coastal development, poaching and pollution. In New Jersey, there were 55 incidents of stranded sea turtles in 2013, which is more than double the number in previous years.

The new, 15,000-square-foot facility will be constructed next to the Sea Lion Sound exhibit. It will have five recovery tanks, a “head start” display for cold-stunned juvenile turtles, and life support systems and rehabilitation areas for sicker turtles. The public will have close-up views of the turtles in the recovery tanks while learning about the perils they face and what the public can do to help. Once the turtles have regained their health, they will be released back into their natural habitats. An antiquated tortoisry building was demolished earlier this year to make room for the new exhibit.

“Turtle Back Zoo already is a special place where children and families can learn to appreciate animals. Introducing the Sea Turtle Recovery Center helps take our educational programming to the next level and gives us an active role in protecting and preserving wild animals,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer said in the release. “Having the rehabilitation center on site fits into our mission of conservation and expands the potential for animal awareness.”

“The addition of the Sea Turtle Recovery will allow Turtle Back Zoo to take the lead on a conservation initiative that is important for our turtles,” Zoological Society Executive Director Adam Kerins said in the release. “The Sea Turtle Program gives us the opportunity to participate in an important conservation effort and make a difference with the turtles.”

Comito Associates from Newark was awarded a $175,000 contract to design the sea turtle facility. Daskal Construction from Wallington was awarded a publicly bid contract for $1,979,800 to construct the exhibit. The Essex County Department of Public Works will answer questions and monitor the project to avoid delays. The project is being funded with contributions from Prudential Insurance, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, PSE&G and the Matrix Development Group and from the Essex County capital improvement budget. It is scheduled to open by the end of 2016.