Goodbye Gigi

Residents and visitors alike of Navarre Beach are in mourning. Last week we said goodbye to a dear friend, Gigi the loggerhead sea turtle.

Gigi called the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center (NBSTCC) home, and during her time there greeted more than 15,000 guests from across the U.S. and around the world.. From school groups to retirees, Gigi delighted and engaged many as an ambassador for her species.

Her loss is deeply regretted by those that loved her. Including me.

Gigi was initially rescued after stranding as an adult turtle on St. Augustine Beach in 1998. It was discovered that a neurological condition had caused her to go blind. Though it was determined she would not be able to survive in the wild, Gigi still found purpose as an ambassador for her species.

Despite her lack of sight, Gigi found creative ways to settle into her new home. She used the tips of her flippers to feel the location of the walls of her tank. She used sounds to find her way during feeding times with her animal care team, and she could feel the vibrations from visitors to poke up her head to say hello.

On my visits Gigi would frequently swim up to where I was watching her. She was always my favorite subject to write about and photograph.

But she got sick, and despite the best care, she did not get better. Further medical study found that Gigi had developed heart failure from a mass in her chest that was untreatable. In a final act of love, the NBSTCC took away Gigi’s pain.

She is truly missed, but as staff from NBSTCC said, her mission to “give sea turtles more tomorrows” will live on.

The turtle center remains open, offering education and inspiration to those that visit, and in the future the center hopes to have another sea turtle swimming in their pool once more to inspire future generations of sea turtle conservationist.

Goodbye Gigi, and thank you.

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When you’re “beached out” (or it rains)

I have lived on the most beautiful stretch of beach in the world, Navarre Beach, my entire life. I grew up spending nearly every Saturday in the warm months relaxing on beaches that most people only see on vacation.

But it’s confession time: even I get tired on the beach.

We get it. You come down for two weeks of blissful relaxation and play, but by day five you are what we like to call “beached out.” Sun, surf and sand are great and all, but give me something more.

So here are my go tos when I’m “beached out.” (Or if it rains.)

  1. Escape Zone 60 (rainy day solution)

Escape rooms are giant puzzle mysteries that you get locked in to. You and a team of friends have to race to solve the clues before the hour timer runs out. ANYTHING can be a clue, teamwork is essential and this is loads of fun even if you don’t beat the clock. For a time slot go to escapezone60.com.

  1. Gulf Breeze Zoo

The Gulf Breeze Zoo offers a wide array of animals to delight and wow. My personal are the giraffes including the two new babies born last year, Kelly and Gibson. These two are too cute!

The train which rides through up close encounters with a range of African animals including emus, gazelles and gorillas.

  1. Panhandle Butterfly House and Navarre Park

Located inside Navarre Park, the Panhandle Butterfly House is a must see. This unique-to-the-area greenhouse offers visitors upclose encounters with some of Florida’s beautiful native butterflies. The kids will love learning hands-on about the amazing transformation and migration of a variety of butterfly species.

Afterwards enjoy all the park has to offer including the splash pad, playgrounds, basketball courts, picnic tables, nature walk and more.

  1. Small Business Shopping (rainy day solution)

My mother always said there is nothing a new pair of cute shoes can’t fix. So if you are on vacation and the rain clouds come calling, why not go shopping? Unique souvenirs, local artist originals and yes, even cute shoes are all waiting to be discovered.

My personal favorites (all within minutes of the drive of the beach) include Shoe Frenzy, Foxy Boutique, Southern Specialty, Saltwater Cottage and more.

  1. Blackwater River and Adventures Unlimited

Though this is a bit of a drive north, Blackwater River offers your family loads of fun. Rent some tubes, kayaks or a canoe from Adventures Unlimited, and just drift down the river taking in a whole new side of the area’s natural beauty. For the more fearless set, tryout one of their many ziplines.

So get off the beach for a bit and try a new attraction.

Get Ready for the Navarre Fishing Rodeo

It won’t be long before anglers along the Emerald Coast can compete in the Navarre Fishing Rodeo.

The event, in its fifth year, is set to take place Oct. 7-8.

The tournament organized by the Navarre Beach Area Chamber Foundation highlights the abundance of fish that can be found in area waters and the different methods for catching them.

The competition is open to pier, boat, kayak and onshore fishing. Previous years have seen competitors of all ages casting a line and bringing up big catches.

A total of seven divisions and 20 fish categories will highlight this year’s rodeo, with organizers hoping to attract freshwater and saltwater anglers.

In addition to the open and junior divisions, there are several other divisions, including a kayak division where anglers on non-motorized vessels can compete in their own division for Spanish mackerel, King mackerel, snapper, flounder, redfish and trout.

There are also two “Slams” – where offshore division entrants will compete for the largest Spanish mackerel, King mackerel and snapper. Inshore participants will battle for the winning flounder, redfish and trout.

Also, with the growing efforts to reduce the lionfish population, there is a category in the rodeo for divers, who will focus on bringing up the most weight in the non-native species. These red-striped, spiky invaders make for good eating.

There is a mystery category as well. In that category, the species of fish and winning weight will be predetermined and released to anglers prior to the tournament.

Tens of thousands of dollars in cash and prizes will be handed out to the winners of the tournament. Last year first place for the open and kayak divisions were $125 cash, second place was $75, third place was $50 and the slam categories won Yeti Tundra coolers.

All participants in the fishing rodeo receive a Mojo long sleeve fishing rodeo tee and captain bags filled with a variety of fishing treats.

Door prize drawings for items donated by local businesses have landed fishers kayaks and more.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online at http://www.navarrefishingrodeo.com/tickets.html. The cost to register in the rodeo is $45. Children 12 and under are free in the junior angler division with a paid adult registration.

Several nonprofit groups benefit from the event each year including Navarre Beach Marine Park, Take a Kid Fishing and Heroes on the Water.

For more information, call 850-939-1900 or visit navarrefishingrodeo.com.

Partnership gives cigarette butts new purpose

When volunteers swarm Navarre Beach to collect garbage each month, cigarette butts often fill their collection buckets. Thousands of these burned, squished and tossed pieces of plastic trash are left on the beach to eventually wash into the Gulf of Mexico.

Once in the water this garbage poses a serious threat to wildlife that may accidentally consume it, but that is where TerraCycle comes in.

The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center has partnered with this New Jersey-based recycling company to turn some of the collected waste, including cigarette butts, into new products.

TerraCycle lives by the mantra nothing is garbage, as evidenced by its slogan “eliminating the idea of waste.” The company has developed a variety of programs to prove that point, taking materials that are generally considered non-recyclable and giving them new life.

TerraCycle is the first company to create a program that recycles cigarette butts, a waste product that up to a few years ago was considered unrecyclable.

TerraCycle’s program is called the Cigarette Waste Brigade. Partners from across the U.S. and throughout Canada, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, France, Japan and Australia help collect the cigarette litter. To date the program has collected more than 70 million spent cigarettes.

That’s a lot of butts.

When the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center holds their monthly Trash Bash garbage collection, participants receive a bucket for their found waste. Mounted on the side of the bucket is a separate container for cigarette butts.

The turtle center has also set up collection receptacles on the beach to encourage smokers to leave the beach clean. There are four such containers on the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier and one at the turtle center.

Once the cigarettes are picked up, they are sent to TerraCycle for processing. The firm sterilizes the butts using gamma radiation, then shreds them using a special machine to separate the paper and leftover tobacco from the plastic filter.

The tobacco and paper is sent off for composting, and the plastic filters are turned into plastic pellets. TerraCycle uses these pellets to create a variety of products including shipping pallets and plastic lumber which can be used to make playground equipment, outdoor benches and more. They even make table top ash trays out of the cigarettes.

More than just recycling the unrecyclable, the program also leads to donations to Keep America Beautiful’s cigarette litter prevention program.

As a leader in ecotourism, Navarre Beach residents, visitors and organizations like the turtle center are making sure that Florida’s coastline will remain beautiful for generations to come.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Long time staple of the Navarre coast broke into the top 10 of the 2017 Best Florida Beach Bars

Picture leaning back in a beach chair as you dig your toes into the powdery white sand while sipping your favorite drink as the sun sets over sparkling saltwater. Live music plays in the background as the sky is alight with streaks of red, orange and purple.

That’s just another day at Juana’s Pagodas on Navarre Beach. This long time staple of the Navarre coast broke into the top 10 of the 2017 Best Florida Beach Bars contest sponsored by LandShark Lager.

Owner Kevin Rudzki said he is thrilled.

“We have made the list before, just not in the top 10. The rest of the bars are bigger name south Florida bars for the most part. There are some pretty big names that have been in the top 10 that we beat out this year,” he said. “It’s a pretty good honor. It is a neat thing to be a prat of, and it gives us some national recognition.”

The scoring to determine the bars list is based on FloridaBeachBar.com’s score and online voting. There was a list of 224 bars to pick from located throughout the state.

The scoring is based on things like ambiance, whether they have a full bar, how often they have live music and how close the bar is to the water. Juana’s has all of the above and so much more.

In addition to having a full restaurant on site this beach bar boasts indoor and outdoor seating, Jet Ski and sail boat rentals, volleyball courts and water front relaxation.

Rudzki said there location, just feet from Santa Rosa Sound at the foot of the Navarre Beach Causeway, is one of their best features.

“It’s the proverbial beach bar, what people are looking for,” he said. “It’s a laid back atmosphere. I like to think that we offer great service and good music, and our biggest selling point is our location. The sunsets are priceless.”

Juana’s has been doing business on the beach since 1989. They celebrated their 28th anniversary last month.

In the nearly 30 year since the Rudzki brothers and their wives first started renting out Jet Skis and sail boats at the location, it has been growing. Eventually the bar was added, then a restaurant and plenty of live music.

For a full list of winners and their locations go to floridabeachbar.com/2017-award-winners or just come check it out in person.