Volunteers come to aid of 20 turtles at Wonder Gardens
Twenty turtles have a new home that was all made possible by a bunch of dedicated volunteers.
The yellow-eared sliders and red-bellied cooters used to live in a cement pit type of enclosure. When officials at the Wonder Gardens started looking for a better place for them they came across an area of botanical waste.Janet Martin, interim executive director of the Everglades Wonder Gardens, says it is volunteers that are helping the longtime attraction make big changes to improve the lives of the creatures and the experience of visitors.
“This was a botanical dumpster,” Martin said as she stood in front of the now pristine enclosure. “There were vines and leaves and waste. It was 10-feet deep, filled in with botanical debris and covered in dirt.”
Martin knew that under all this waste was a pond that had once been used for a crocodile exhibit. So they started digging.
“We had volunteers digging it with shovels and we knew it would take forever,” Martin said.
Then Ben Nelson offered to use his mini excavator from his company Nelson Marine.
“I came in there and dug it all out,” Nelson said. « Then I came in there with another skid steer – a Bobcat – and moved the things around. It’s really not that big a deal for us, but it ends up being a big deal for them. They were in there shoveling. I guessed I could take care of that in a few hours. The first phase that was digging it up was 2 to 3 hours and then moving the dirt around was another 2 to 3 hours.”
John Brady, who formally ran the attraction, is proud of how the community is coming together to help the 80-year-old gardens. Pottery from Art donated a turtle planter for the new turtle exhibit. Volunteers are now working in a tegu exhibit and other renovations. Two Boy Scouts now have Eagle Scout projects planned. One scout just built a bench by a bird exhibit. Another scout plans to build large wooden bird cages to replace the old rusty metal ones.
“I think it’s magnificent,” Brady said about all the volunteers. “I am really proud of what these guys are doing. They are really taking this place into the future. It takes people pulling together for a community goal.”
Now that the turtle exhibit is complete, visitors can get a whole new experience with it. Besides better viewing of the aquatic creatures, there is a feeding area. Volunteers even added a chute so people can roll the food right to the turtles in the pond.
“All the turtles are natives,” Martin said. “All have been given to us. People have them as pets. They get them when they are small and cute as a button, and we always get calls from people that want to get rid of them.”
The new exhibit is also creating a happier, healthier home for the turtles, Martin explained. For the first time one of the turtles has laid eggs.
“That’s an absolute sign that they are doing well,” Martin said.