City honors Gulf World employee for animal rescue

Pat Kelly / News Herald Writer

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Gulf World employee Melanie Secret Holmes-Douglas was honored Thursday for her work with marine animals, especially her latest effort to save sea turtles from the recent BP oil spill.

Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst presented Holmes-Douglas with a proclamation naming  Aug. 19 “Melanie Secret Holmes-Douglas Day,” after which Holmes-Douglas gave a  tour of a new de-oiling facility at Gulf World that has been used to rescue animals distressed by the recent BP oil spill disaster.

Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach has helped rescue more than 140  sea turtles since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and is currently the only de-oiling facility in North Florida, officials said. On Thursday, Holmes-Douglas showed off the new facility, which includes large tubs for cleaning the animals and a tented triage area to treat the turtles when they first arrive, including administering glucose and fluids, if needed.

Holmes-Douglas, who heads up the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at  Gulf World, also helped organize the rescue of more than 1,700 stunned sea turtles during an extreme cold snap in January.

During that turtle crisis, she worked around the clock to warm the turtles and provide medical attention, officials said. More than 1,200 eventually were returned to the wild.

“I’ve always had an interest in animals,” Holmes-Douglas said. “I never  thought I’d be where I am today.”

Gulf World currently has permits to rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles,  dolphins and manatees.

Holmes-Douglas, a Panama City native, is in charge of Gulf World’s de-oiling facility, the equipment for which was provided by BP. Gulf World co-owner Ron  Hardy said Holmes-Douglas provided BP a list of the equipment needed, and BP  paid for and provided everything required.

“We can currently handle a large number of turtles,” Holmes-Douglas said. “This is going to go on for a while, I assume.”

Oberst described Holmes-Douglas, who began working in the gift shop at Gulf  World at 15 before rising to be director of marine mammals, as a special person who has dedicated her life to sea animals.

“She has spent many hours watching over these turtles,” Oberst said.

The de-oiling facility has about 60 juvenile turtles under rehabilitation.  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials on Wednesday released  23 rehabilitated turtles back into the wild at Cedar Key, 11 of which were de-oiled at Gulf World, Holmes-Douglas said.