By Samantha Joseph
STUART -- Four sea turtles at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center escaped the dangerous chill of this winter's cold front, thanks to a new pool with ideal water temperatures.
The green sea turtles typically live in the center's 750,000-gallon lagoon, which is filled with sea water.
But the dip in temperatures during the holidays made the lagoon too cold for the group, which includes popular residents Turt, Hank and Annabelle.
"It's life-threatening for them if they stay in cold water," said Gina Rodriguez, the center's marketing and communications specialist.
Brittany Biber, the center's aquarium and exhibit specialist, said turtles are cold-blooded, which makes them especially susceptible to cooler winter temperatures.
But the animals kept warm thanks to a heated pool at the turtle pavilion, currently under construction and set to open by the end of this month.
Staff kept the new pool at 73 degrees, compared to 68 in the lagoon, and used it to help heat the rest of the water in the center.
The new turtle pavilion -- in the works for about a year -- will also allow visitors a better look at the animals.
"You'll now be looking down at the turtles from the walkway, so that will give you an up-close look," Ms. Rodriguez said.
Visitors will also get a behind-the-scenes look at part of the center's operations when several new exhibits open.
An animal health lab will include a window that allows guests to interact with specialists as they prepare food for the center's animals.
Another exhibit provides real-time information about the area's water quality, while yet another displays four local habitats.
The exhibits, located inside the visitors' center, include ecosystems built around oyster beds, sea grasses, mangroves and sand bottom.
"There is something for every. Visitors get a close look at these ecosystems and learn why we need to preserve them," Ms. Ridriguez said. "You hear a lot about them, but this really helps you see why they're important. Anyone who lives in the area needs to know what's going on in our water."
The Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center is located at 890 N.E. Ocean Blvd., Stuart. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission for adults is $10. Children between ages 3 and 12 enter for $5. Center members and children younger than 3 enter free of charge. For more information, call (772) 225-0505.