It is a rare Monday morning that finds this writer anxious to get to her desk and share the weekend’s happenings, but this past weekend’s experience at Sea World Orlando was so profound that I can’t wait to tell everyone about it.
Now, I know that Sea World and other theme parks and zoos get a lot of negative press from groups like PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals). But, at least in Sea World’s case, I think the criticism must come from people who have never been there and thus are either misinformed or uninformed.
As an example, did you know that the Sea World parks make up the largest animal rescue organization in the world? As a former resident of the Orlando area (back when HBJ owned Sea World), and a longtime annual pass holder, I have seen the increasing emphasis that Sea World has placed on conservation and sustainability initiatives, from animal rescues to recycling efforts.
Their newest attraction, Turtle Trek, which opened on April 27th, continues those efforts. You begin in a pre-show underwater viewing area, where a sea turtle expert tells you about the plight of critically endangered sea turtles, while you watch sea turtles of several species swim placidly with fish and Florida manatees. All of these turtles have been injured or ill and were rescued by Sea World. To-date, Sea World has rescued more than 1000 sea turtles and about 400 Florida Manatees. All are nursed back to health, and where possible, most are released back into the wild. Those who are left too impaired to survive in the wild become permanent residents of the park and provide educational and entertainment opportunities for park visitors. By the time you leave this pre-show area, you are already smitten with these big, and strangely fragile, creatures.
Guests then proceed into a theater unlike any other. It is a 360-degree, three-dimensional experience, as seen through a sea turtle’s eyes. From the time “you” hatch from your egg and struggle to make it to the ocean for the first time, confronting danger from predatory crabs along the way, through your life’s journey throughout the world’s oceans, to the time when you return to the beach of your birth to lay eggs of your own, it is an incredible and emotional experience.
I don’t think anyone there failed to be moved and awestruck by the daunting struggles these amazing creatures face daily, trying to survive in a changing world. It reminded me why I do the things I do on a regular basis in the name of ecology – why I recycle everything I can, why I always cut every loop of the plastic six-pack holders so animal life cannot become entangled in them and suffocate or starve, why I use reusable shopping bags. Every little bit helps.
Man’s connection with, and impact on, his environment has long been recognized by those who have come before us, and if we are to survive, we must become good stewards of all of the resources of our planet. As Chief Seattle said, “And what is man without the beasts? If the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. All things are connected.”
If you doubt how much your small efforts might make to improve our environment, I highly recommend that you experience Turtle Trek. It will change your life, as it has mine.