A Wetsuit Fit for a Gem

Often called the gem of the Living Coast, Sapphire the loggerhead sea turtle attracts a lot of attention. She’s big, beautiful, and oddly buoyant. Sapphire is often found in a sort of turtle-headstand position due to her buoyancy challenges. Sapphire’s story begins in 2014 when she arrived at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys with injuries consistent with a boat strike, leaving a large crack across her rear carapace, blindness in her left eye, and a severe buoyancy imbalance. As she was deemed non-releasable, Sapphire found her home with us since arriving in 2014. 

Sapphire lifts weights, but not in a “get swole” way. Her buoyancy imbalance had to be corrected by gluing marine weights to her rear shell, allowing her the ability to surface and dive down at her leisure. But in April 2020, Sapphire’s buoyancy worsened, affecting her sleeping and eating habits. We made a plan to add more weights to her shell since she’s a growing turtle and will need constant modifications as she ages. But it wasn’t so simple. 

Where do we put the weights? One day her buoyancy leans her right, the next day moreso left. Sometimes a little forwards or backwards. There didn’t seem to be a one-spot-fits-all option. And that’s what sparked an idea that could allow for flexibility. Instead of permanently gluing the weights, what if they were held in a wetsuit she was wearing so they could be added or removed as necessary? If you’ve ever SCUBA-dived, you’re familiar with the concept. Divers either wear weight belts or place weights in their wetsuits to allow them to sink. The team went to work. 

A prototype was mocked with the willing help of a volunteer red-eared slider. Next step: make it a LOT bigger. Friends at O’Neill Wetsuits donated a sheet of Neoprene which was used to mock up a sea-turtle sized wetsuit fit with velcro and zip-tie pockets. After a fitting session, the template was sent back to O’Neill and a final design was sent over, custom fit for a gem. 

Now to figure out the best weight placements. With the wetsuit in place, the team trialed weight locations for months, determining how much weight would go where and adjusting accordingly. To measure her successes, her activity levels and calorie intake was monitored, in addition to her “tilt”. 

Finally, in December, the last weight was removed along with the wetsuit and Sapphire stood (or floated) horizontal, and swam straight! Success! 

While Sapphire continues to grow, her buoyancy will change and she will most likely need to undergo “wetsuit therapy” again to help straighten her out. But we’re happy to report that Sapphire is eating well, swimming well, and isn’t currently performing any underwater gymnastics. 

We would like to extend a very special thank you to our veterinarian, Dr. Todd Cecil at the Western Aquatic Animal Veterinary Services; Mark Massara, Brian Kilpatrick, Greg Clarke, and the rest of the team at O’Neill Wetsuits; and Terrie Williams at U.C. Santa Cruz.  

Spring Day Camps for Kids and Teens

Living Coast’s Spring Day Camps March 23 — April 3

Spring Break is coming and the Living Coast Discovery Center has super fun, super educational Day Camps for kids (4-12) and Bio Days for teens (13-18)!

Check out the Spring Day Camp Schedule below, tips for getting your teen involved in Bio Days above that, and New for Spring camps right here. For more information, visit our Day Camps page. To register, visit our Reservations page.


New for Spring!

SuperWildLogoTiny but Mighty — NEW for Pre-K through Kinder! Some of the tiniest creatures have the most amazing Superhero abilities! From beetles with super strength to geckos that scale walls, we will explore the mighty creatures of our new SuperWild Seasonal Exhibit through games, crafts, and of course, hands on animal encounters! See the schedule below for details, or click here to reserve.

SuperWildLogoSuper Powers of the SuperWild! — NEW for 1st through 3rd Grade! This camp is all about the Superheroes of the wild world! Join our new animal ambassadors as we explore real life super powers that these wild creatures use every day. We’ll get hands on with snakes that fish with lightning fast speed, birds that radiate heat, hulk sized insects, and reptiles that stretch to the extreme- and learn WHY and HOW they do it! See the schedule below for details, or click here to sign up.

Kayaks to Keepers — Now All Day and with NEW Animals for 4th-6th Graders Think you have seen it all in Apprentice Camp? Think again! An unforgettable experience, this camp is all about new adventures! Campers will spend two days off site (Tuesday and Thursday) kayaking south San Diego Bay. We will master kayaking techniques, paddle out to discover what dwells in the bay and, of course, HAVE FUN! We will be on site at the Living Coast Monday, Wednesday, and Friday learning what it takes to work with our new visitors for our SuperWild exhibit. Each student will get hands on by helping our keepers feed, clean, and socialize our new critters as well as discovering the super powers they use every day. See the schedule below for details, or click here to RSVP.


Spring Day Camp Schedule

Camp Times Dates Grade/Age Price Member Price
Tiny But Mighty (NEW) 9am – 12pm March 23rd – 25th Pre K – Kinder $68 $62
Turtles In My Sandbox 9am – 12pm March 26th – 27th Pre K – Kinder $47 $43
Shark Bites 9am – 12pm March 30th – April 1st Pre K – Kinder $68 $62
Little Gardeners 9am – 12pm Aprl 2nd – 3rd Pre K – Kinder $47 $43
Nature Investigation Unit (NIU) 9am – 12:30pm March 23rd – 27th 1st – 3rd Grade $115 $104
Sea Turtle Splash 1:00 – 4:30 March 23rd – 27th 1st – 3rd Grade $115 $104
Super Powers of the Super Wild! (NEW) 9am – 12:30pm March 30th – April 3rd 1st – 3rd Grade $115 $104
That’s Gross! 1:00 – 4:30 March 30th – April 3rd 1st – 3rd Grade $115 $104
Kayaks to Keepers (NEW) 9am – 4:30pm March 30th – April 3rd 4th – 6th Grade $230 $208
Bio Days 9am – 4pm March 30th – 31st 12 – 18 years old $140 $126