PANACEA, Fla. – Gulf Specimen Marine Lab was hard hit by Hermine – the animals there could have as few as two days to live after murky flood waters inundated the life-giving water re-circulation system they depend on.
For now, they are running on an aerator system, powered by a generator, which pumps precious oxygen into the dozens of tanks.
Around 1 a.m. Friday, as the Category 1 hurricane made landfall just a few miles away. Water from Apalachee Bay started to leak into the Sump, an underground tank that filters and recirculates the water that keeps turtles, sharks and other coastal wildlife alive.
“This could have been a knock-out punch,” said Jack Rudloe, the lab’s president and founder who is worried whether the generator can run long enough to keep bubbles flowing.
The pumps were shut off and removed by saw before the water, which could contain sewage, bacteria and other particles deadly to marine life, could make its way into the tanks.
By morning, the tanks were being sterilized and put back together. Unless the system is fully stabilized, as Wakulla County officials try to restore power to thousands, the animals don’t have long to live.
But Hermine’s destruction didn’t end with the disruption of the life system.
Just down the block, storm surge took out most of the lab’s living dock. It’s a place where kids come on field trips and is the hallmark of the daily ventures to the coastal community.
Most of the dock planks were ripped away. Some ended up in the marsh.
The lab’s managing director Cyprus Rudloe said the dock has sustained surge for years, standing strong through Hurricane Dennis in 2005.
“We’ve gotten lucky. Usually we don’t get hit this hard. This dock has held up since I was a kid,” he said, pointing to a long stretch of missing planks leading to a floating dock. “This whole part coming off and moving is devastating.
"It's something we have to have to stay in business."
The dock was the genesis of a book by Jack Rudloe. Jimmy Buffett is fond of the marine ecosystem and visited about 5 years ago. It’s the place where the specimens that give people a view into the seas’ life are unloaded.
Cyprus Rudloe estimated the storm caused more than $20,000 in damages. How to raise the money, something the lab has resorted to donation drives and fundraisers for in the past, hasn’t even crossed his mind as he worries about keeping the marine life at the lab alive.
“The idea of where to come up with the funds for it hasn’t even dawned on me yet,” he said. “It’s kind of still in the shell shock situation of OK what do we have to do to get everything running for right now.”
Send donations to the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab at 222 Clark Drive in Panacea.
Contact Karl Etters at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KarlEtters on Twitter.