Groups Look To Protect Sea Turtles Using Sculpture

The turtle sculpture would be decorated by local artists or students.

Speaking of taking risks, James Bryant Conant, the 23rd president of Harvard University and the very first United States ambassador to West Germany, said, “Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.”

Last week, two representatives from area environmental organizations personified the creature they wish to nurture, by sticking their necks out with a request to the Southampton Town Board.

On Thursday, July 8, Danielle Perillo of the New York Marine Rescue Center and Bryan DeLuca of the Long Island Aquarium sought the town’s help with their sea turtle sculpture program that uses art to raise awareness. Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the two had presented their idea at a meeting of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association and he invited them to share it with the Town Board.

Thanks to a grant from the New York State Development Division of Tourism the NYMRC project depicting tourism’s role in saving endangered sea life, looks to engage the public and inform it about the center’s work saving sea turtles.

The group is looking for waterfront towns and villages on Long Island to sponsor sea turtle sculptures and place them prominently in public spaces. In Southampton, a plain fiberglass turtle sculpture would then be decorated by the local community — artists or school children — and used to raise awareness, Mr. DeLuca explained.

A QR code on the installation would take the viewer to a site where they’d receive information about how to assist cold stunned turtles. Turtles become “cold stunned” when the water temperatures suddenly plunge. Their body temperatures plummet to dangerous levels and their survival skills can become compromised. A plaque with a bar code at the sculpture’s base would help beachgoers contact rescue experts, “So we can respond immediately,” Ms. Perillo explained. It would warn well-intentioned amateurs against trying to revive stunned turtles with such DIY methods as  taking them home and putting them in the bathtub.

The group hopes to be able to site the turtle art up and down the coastline. NYMRC would provide the blank sculpture and then it’s up to the individual municipality to find a place to put it and artists to decorate it. The sculpture is about 4 to 5 feet tall.

“I’m gonna take you up on that immediately,” Councilman John Bouvier enthused. He pointed to the marine education center at Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays as both an ideal location for the center and a great place to find students to decorate the artwork.

“I like this concept,” the lawmaker continued. “This is a perfect way to raise awareness.”

He pointed out that the town’s economy is dependent on “how we take care of our marine life and beaches. “

Once the town takes possession of the sculpture, it becomes the town’s responsibility. The municipality would be on the hook for maintaining the spot where the sculpture rests. Asked how long the installation would be up, Mr. DeLuca said, “We’re not looking to take them back.”

“If we don’t like it, can we give it back?” Mr. Schneiderman asked.

“We already rehab plenty of turtles, Jay,” Mr. DeLuca joked. The sculpture could continuously renew itself, by being moved to different locations or painted over, he said.

A lot of people never get to see the hospital at the aquarium, Mr. DeLuca pointed out. Visitation is restricted for the safety of the animal patients. Because the public can’t go through that area of the aquarium, they don’t get to see what goes on behind the scenes. Having the sculptures sprinkled across Long Island at waterfront communities will, Mr. DeLuca said, get the message out.

Also located on East Main Street in Riverhead, the aquarium’s partner, NYMRC was founded in 1996. Its mission is to preserve and protect the marine environment through conservation efforts like rescue, rehabilitation, research and education.