Hurricane Irma very nearly put a beloved Panhandle landmark out of business. But instead of closing their doors after 54 years, Panacea’s Gulf Specimen Marine Lab is up and running.
Like many in North Florida, the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab did some serious packing ahead of Hurricane Irma. Unlike the rest of us, director Jack Rudloe and his team had to evacuate a sea turtle and two sharks.
“The sharks weigh I dunno, 150 pounds apiece? And getting them caught up, which they didn’t like at all. And being squeezed into a little box, relatively, and put on a trailer. That was traumatic and difficult and it took about eight people to really do it,” Rudloe said.
Before Irma took a final wobble to the east, the projection looked dire for the Forgotten Coast.
“The coast and our way of life here could be over. You don’t know. You kinda just get numbed and shocked and do what you have to do as you’re seeing paintings taken off the wall and wrapped up and put in plastic and carried down and loaded on a truck and thinking, maybe this is the big one,” Rudloe said.
As Irma, edged closer, Rudloe posted a farewell message on facebook, reproduced in part here.
We have withstood numerous hurricanes, seen our "Living Dock" battered to pieces and our sea water system wrecked. But we are a part of nature. Storms stir up the bottom, flush nutrients out into the sea, and create bumper crops of shrimp, crabs, oysters and fish in coming years. They batter us and feed us.
We've always managed to come back, repair and rebuild because we've had a great staff, who have been with us for decades, and because people love what we do with our aquarium and sea turtle rehabilitation programs.
IBut this is the storm of storms, the big one. f there is anything left to rebuild after Irma does her thing, we will be once again asking for your help and donations. But if Panacea disappears beneath the waves, and Gulf Specimen becomes history, I want to thank everyone for their years of support. It's been a good run.
Rudloe was grappling with the idea the lab and its touch-tank aquarium might never reopen.
“If that big beast out there that came roaring up the coast decided to move west a few miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and then proceed straight up over water and have hit Tallahassee as a bull’s eye, well it would’ve been, ‘so long, it’s been good to know ya,’” he said.
Instead, the lab is largely unscathed. There’s a lot of cleaning and unpacking to do. But Rudloe is happy to say the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab is open for visitors.