In 1964, with a dream and no money, Jack Rudloe moved into an old World War II army barracks with a leaky roof and a wood stove in the remote fishing village of Panacea, Florida. As he started Gulf Specimen Marine Lab this was his house, his lab, his writing office and aquarium all crammed together. It was there that he wrote his first book, “The Sea Brings Forth”. As the business grew and evolved into an environmental education center, we kept patching that building together. It is still used as the office and gift shop for the aquarium.
When Cypress Rudloe took over the management over twelve years ago, he carried on the tradition of stretching our limited funds by patching and re-patching that same World War II army barracks that came from Camp Gordon Johnson in 1949. But we can patch no more. To continue our insurance coverage we are required to have the roof totally replaced by a licensed roofer, which will cost $30,000.
Over the past sixty years hurricanes and tropical storms have been hard on our facilities. The “Living Dock” has been smashed and replaced three times with FEMA funds. Without insurance, FEMA will no longer allow us to make claims. With rising sea levels, climate change, and catastrophic hurricanes pounding our coast, complying with insurance regulations is vital and mandatory.
Unfortunately, to comply with our insurance, we will also need to remove the water oak next to the gift shop. We love trees at Gulf Specimen Marine Lab and hate to see this beautiful tree be destroyed, but we are going to make lemonade out of lemons by turning this tree into oysters. Jack Rudloe, our founder, has worked for years to bring the concept of oysters on trees to the general public. In the 1920's the Apalachicola oyster fishery was a flourishing fishing industry and one of the techniques used to keep it going was to plant trees to create a substrate for baby oysters to settle on in the bays. Gulf Specimen has been doing this on our living dock facility for 10 years with great success. To honor this tree's life, we will be making Japanese-style oyster stringers from the wood that we will hang off our living dock into Dickerson Bay as a habitat for oysters and other fouling organisms. For a donation of $75, you can help contribute to the construction of one of these stringers.
Gulf Specimen is a special place where visitors enjoy learning about marine life in a hands-on environment, picking up crabs, and holding hands with octopuses. For three generations visitors of all ages have been coming to GSML and helping support the lab with memberships and contributions. We expanded our facilities to include a new classroom, with AmeriCorps members helping with our thousands of excited school children on field trips that come from 250 regional schools. Each year we continue to add new displays. With AmeriCorps’s help and a grant from Florida’s Department of Cultural Affairs, we built a really fun Picklearium glow room that displays preserved deep sea creatures.
Please help us replace our roof.