Cheyanna Johnson laughed as she rowed under a canopy of mangroves. Now, she was a natural at paddleboarding on the Intracoastal Waterway in Jupiter. Moving forward through the shimmering water, Johnson and the rest of Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s SWIM Juno Beach guests observed pufferfish, wading birds and plenty of red mangroves, documenting the paddle trip with their GoPro cameras.
The trip was the first of LMC’s new SWIM (Serving the World’s Imperiled Marine life) eco-tour destinations. The three destinations – Juno Beach, Florida, Maui, Hawai’i, and Padre Ramos, Nicaragua – were created with adventurous travelers in mind. While on a SWIM program, participants have the up-close opportunity to learn about the destination’s ecosystem and partner with a local non-profit in the organization’s day-to-day conservation efforts, such as marine debris removal and sea turtle monitoring.
For Johnson, a trip to the sea was just what she wanted. Originally from Oklahoma City, she learned about SWIM through an LMC Instagram post.
“When I saw that opportunity, I jumped on it,” she said. “This was by far the most amazing and joy-filled experience I ever had; it couldn’t have been any more perfect.”
Johnson added that she wanted to learn more about sea turtle conservation and get a first-hand look at a career in conservation.
I’ve always been fascinated with turtles,” she said. “I love them, and I wanted to get a more up-close and personal experience with hands-on activities. I learned so much.”
Meanwhile, Sadie Richardson, an occupational therapist from Tampa, Florida, said her reason for traveling down to South Florida was so she could learn more about sea turtle rehabilitation.
“I’ve been obsessed with sea turtles as a child,” she said. “I remember visiting LMC as a guest when I was younger. In some way, I’ve always wanted to work with sea turtles. Since I do rehab with people, my husband suggested I attend this trip so I could get a behind-the-scenes look.”
From visiting a local non-profit nature center in Boca Raton learning about rehabilitation efforts to kayaking the Loxahatchee River, participants dove deep into the secrets and wonders of South Florida’s unique fresh water and ocean ecosystems.
They also got their hands dirty while assisting in a marine debris waterway cleanup and building hatchling enclosures, which are built for genetic testing. At LMC, the guests learned about LMC’s rehabilitation methods, joined LMC biologists on the beach for sea turtle monitoring, cleaned the “Big Blue” tank and more.
Casey Sohyda, a recent college graduate from Baltimore, Maryland recalls her reason for attending SWIM. As a former biology student, Sohyda said she desired to explore the career path of working with marine life.
“It was just a really unique opportunity,” said Sohyda. “I wanted that hands-on approach and to see what working with sea turtles was really like.”
Though the guests have returned home, their memory of the trip remains as clear as the photographs they took.
“I was really happy to get the opportunity to work on this project,” said Tampa resident Sadie Richardson. “If it means that one more hatchling gets to make it out to the wild, grow up to be an adult and help increase the sea turtle population, then it’s all worth it.”