Guana Center Allows a Glimpse into the Aquatic Life; Education Center Is One 26 National Estuarine Research Reserves in the Country

By Brown, Terry | The Florida Times Union, September 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

Guana Center Allows a Glimpse into the Aquatic Life; Education Center Is One 26 National Estuarine Research Reserves in the Country


Brown, Terry, The Florida Times Union


Byline: terry brown

One of the first things visitors notice is suspended over their heads -- a 45-foot right whale and calf, joined by a myriad other sea creatures from the the ocean depths.

As visitors enter an expansive room, they get a sense of the rich and bountiful life that makes up the Atlantic Coast region. The marsh vistas, wildlife and miles of beaches are just steps away thanks to the opening of a new education center in St. Johns County.

The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve Environmental Education Center is a mouthful to say, but those who walk through the doors of the new center are sure not to forget the experience. The Sept. 24 grand opening of the $6.2 million, 21,000-square-foot environmental education and research facility will serve as a new focal point of the national estuarine reserve system.

"GTM is a special place to you and to us on the federal side," said Laurie McGilvray, chief of the Estuarine Reserve Division of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, during opening ceremonies. "Two years ago, it was my privilege to celebrate National Estuaries Day by participating in the formal groundbreaking ceremony for this building. Today, I am so proud to join you again as we dedicate the brand new, spectacular Environmental Education Center at Guana River."

The center is one of only 26 national estuarine research reserves in the country. Together, the reserves provide more than 1 million acres of habitat for marine and wildlife. Estuaries are bodies of water where fresh water rivers mix with salt water to create spawning grounds and nurseries for fish and shellfish.

The GTM Reserve is one of the largest in the national estuarine system, encompassing more than 60,000 acres. It stretches along the coast for 60 miles and has 14 managed conservation areas with an abundance of habitats and wildlife, said GTM education coordinator Janet Zimmerman.

"All of our staff really pulled together to make this dream a reality," Zimmerman said. "The new facility allows us to take our educational programs to the next level. In fact, our school programs are booked solid through into the new year."

Capturing the imagination of young and old alike is what Zimmerman hopes to secure at the new center. If the crowd's enthusiastic response Saturday is any indication, the exhibits are sure to make the center a popular destination point for residents and tourists.

At the touch-tank exhibit, for example, much to the delight of staff, young fingers tentatively reach out to touch and quickly withdraw as a horseshoe crab began to squirm about trying to right itself in the touch-tank. With a loud squeal from the youngsters, and smiles from all of those gathered around the saltwater tank, it would appear the center has more than its share of surprises and fun.

terry.brown@jacksonville. …

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