The Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center is a marine life nature center located on Hutchinson Island in Stuart, Florida. It currently occupies 57 acres and is located between the Indian River and the Atlantic Ocean.
This is the current exhibit hall. A capital expansion project will be underway in August to build a new Eco Center with 30 new exhibits, new lagoon bridges, expand the gift shop, and add the Waterworks Exploration Zone.
The Oceanographic Center is run by the Florida Oceanographic Society, a non-profit organization with the mission to inspire environmental stewardship of Florida's coastal ecosystems through education, research, and advocacy.
One of their conservation projects is FLOOR (Florida Oceanographic Oyster Restoration). The program actively engages the public in the restoration of the oyster reef habitat. Thousands of volunteers have been recycling shells, constructing reefs, and growing oysters. You can see evidence of these efforts along the banks of the Indian River as well as along the Riverwalk in downtown Stuart.
The Saint Lucie River has lost over 80% of its oyster reef habitat in the past 60 years due to poor water quality and low salinity levels. Oysters are the most important commercial bivalve in the world. We need them because they filter and clean the water, provide food and habitat for hundreds of species, they stabilize the shorelines, and reduce erosion.
This Life Span of Garbage display was a very effective way to illustrate how our trash can pollute our environment for a shockingly long time.
Outside is the Stingray Pavilion where you will learn all about stingrays and also get to touch them and feed them.
There's also the Sea Turtle Pavillion where we listened to a 30-minute live presentation about sea turtles. The Oceanographic Center currently houses four sea turtles that cannot be released back into the ocean. Their shells have been too damaged by boat propellors and they would not be able to survive on their own.
These nurse sharks live in the Gamefish Lagoon. You can watch the gamefish feeding Monday-Saturday at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm.
There are also two nature trails you can explore. The Indian River Lagoon Trail is a 1-mile loop and the I-Spy Trail which is a 1/3-mile loop. The I-Spy trail is fun for little kids but regardless of which trail you choose to explore, I would recommend you bring along some insect repellent.
On the trail, you will discover this replica of an Ays Indian Encampment.
300 years ago Native Americans, such as the Ays Indians, inhabited the coastal hammocks between the ocean and rivers. Their living quarters, called "Chickees," were made from the trees and plants of the hammock.
We spent a few hours at the Oceanographic Center and since it was a typically hot and humid July day here in Florida, we decided to go across the street to Stuart beach afterward for a dip in the ocean. Our timing was amazing because we got to witness the hatching of these adorable baby sea turtles and put our fresh sea turtle knowledge to good use.
Don't worry! The FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation) was called and all the hatchlings made it into the ocean.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or visiting the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center visit FloridaOcean.org.