Responding To The Call

Suzanne Thurman transformed a chance encounter with a sea turtle into Delaware’s official respondents for stranded marine mammals and sea turtles

Compiled by Alison Clary
Main portrait by Kevin Fleming

History: Suzanne Thurman has always possessed a natural, profound connection to the ocean and a passion for environmental conservation. One day, she discovered a needy sea turtle stranded on the shoreline, and she quickly realized there was nowhere nearby she could take him for aid nor were there any local resources for her to call. Her experience with the sea turtle helped her recognize the need for community-based support in marine-stranding situations, so she established the MERR Institute, Inc., in 2000. Short for Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute, Inc., the MERR Institute is today authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the State of Delaware as the official stranding respondents for the marine mammals and sea turtles of Delaware.

How It Helps: The MERR Institute delivers three invaluable services to the community:

1. Rescue: MERR responds to between 250 and 350 rescues per year, and their coverage area consists of the entire state of Delaware. While they are most known for responding to sightings of turtles that have washed ashore, they also answer calls for countless other animals, especially seals in the winter months.

2. Research: MERR lives by the mindset that research is the key to the future. Its research methods consist of data collection and autopsies of deceased marine animals, which provide insight into how to better protect other animals. MERR’s research has also delivered vital information on threatened and endangered marine species.

3. Education: An essential element for future ocean conservation and a pillar of MERR’s mission
is education. Its educational outreach includes programs catered to people of all ages.
These programs are attended by thousands each year and cover topics such as conservation awareness, teaching people how to report a stranded marine animal and other environmental topics.

How to Help: MERR has over 400 volunteers, ranging from office staff and lab helpers to field responders. Community members interested in becoming a volunteer may start by emailing MERR through their website.

A two-hour volunteer-training workshop, followed by additional volunteer position-specific training, are required to officially join the MERR team.

Anyone looking for a less hands-on approach to supporting the organization’s mission may also become a member of MERR. Financial donations are also greatly appreciated and help to ensure MERR can provide its necessary services.