Loggerhead center hires new CEO after months of resignations. Will the turtle tanks remain empty?

·3 min read

JUNO BEACH — Just over a month after its former CEO resigned, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach has announced the hiring of a new top executive.

Marine biologist Andy Dehart will take the reins as the center's new CEO on July 25.

The hiring, however, is just a first step in the center's restoration as a top sea turtle rehabilitation hospital. The center's turtle tanks will remain empty until it hires a new chief veterinarian who the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission can then name on permits to treat sea turtles.

Dehart's arrival comes after nearly a year of turmoil at the center, where water quality issues led to the loss of crucial permits from FWC and at least 20 staff members resigned because of concerns about the animal patients and in protest of former CEO Kyle Van Houtan's management of the once-heralded facility.

Van Houtan resigned May 3, and Palm Beach County political figures Bob Weisman and Jeff Atwater spearheaded the six-month effort to hire his replacement. 

Dehart will come to Juno Beach from the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami, where he was the vice president of animal husbandry and marine conservation.

He has a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has helped establish three large public aquariums in the Frost science museum, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto and the Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.

“We are excited for the next chapter of the center’s expansion, and Dehart’s positive leadership skills and experience gives us complete confidence as he takes on this commitment," Brian Waxman, Loggerhead center board chairman, wrote in a news release about the hire.

Andy Dehart will take over as the CEO of the Loggerhead Marine Life Center in late July 2022.
Andy Dehart will take over as the CEO of the Loggerhead Marine Life Center in late July 2022.

More on the search: Loggerhead Marinelife Center turns to 2 political leaders to regain sea turtles, public's trust

CEO resigns: Loggerhead Center CEO resigns after water quality issues, staff exodus. Here's what we know

Read our deep dive: Where are the turtles? Inside Juno Loggerhead Marinelife Center's water quality, staffing issues

When will the turtles come back to Loggerhead Center?

Dehart's first job will be to hire a chief veterinarian for the Loggerhead center.

Four of the center's permits from FWC are currently suspended, according to information obtained via a public records request to the agency. Loggerhead cannot re-activate those permits until it has a veterinarian who can work with sea turtles – a highly specialized and selective field.

Visitors watch as Howard, an adult male loggerhead, is released by members of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.
Visitors watch as Howard, an adult male loggerhead, is released by members of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.

Until Friday's announcement, Weisman and Atwater suggested they had to strike a balance in bringing in two major leaders to the center: It's difficult to hire a new vet without the person knowing the executive they'll report to, and it's difficult in turn to hire a new CEO for a center that doesn't have a vet or the ability to accept turtle patients.

The center's approach to choosing its top leader has swung back and forth in recent years between turtle enthusiast Larry Woods, business leader Jack Lighton and then to Van Houtan, a scientist with a doctorate in ecology.

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But staff members who spoke with The Palm Beach Post said they felt left out of Van Houtan's hiring process, and were cast aside when they brought up concerns with his leadership.

Tamra Fitzgerald, who handles marketing for the center and owns Jupiter-based Venue Marketing Group, said Loggerhead's board of directors took a different approach in hiring Dehart.

"The staff have all met Andy and were part of the process of hiring him," she said.

She added that the center will have announcements on other new hires in the coming weeks.

Katherine Kokal is a journalist covering northern Palm Beach County at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at kkokal@pbpost.com. Help support our work, subscribe today!

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Loggerhead Marine Center hires new CEO. When will turtles come back?