Division B
Category 7 – News Release
Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s Efforts to Save Sea Turtles a Major Media Success

Research/Situation Analysis: Founded in 1972, Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) is a working marine life animal hospital. Our mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release sick or injured marine life back into the wild. Getting the word out about what we do is a very important part of our work and we have found on several occasions media coverage brings about tangible results, such as increased attendance and donations. In addition, attendance at attractions statewide is down and is expected to continue to follow this trend. As a small non-profit organization, placing stories in the media is more important than ever. Staff members work diligently to educate the public about preserving our marine life environment. The CMA stranding team is on call 24/7 to respond to sick or injured marine life. The Aquarium is home to dolphins, sea turtles, river otters, stingrays, sharks and more. Since 2002, staff members have rescued, rehabilitated and released more than 200 sea turtles. Six species of sea turtles are endangered and one is threatened. Therefore, when Florida experienced record-low cold temperatures in January 2010 and sea turtles across the state started washing up with “cold stun,” this provided us with an opportunity to educate the public of how important these reptiles are and to get the word out to the community about our work in this area. “Cold stun” happens to sea turtles when the temperature of the water drops below their normal body temperature. Their metabolic rate drops and they stop swimming and eating, and end up floating. More than 5,000 sea turtles were “cold stunned” and would have died had they not been cared for by facilities all over Florida. Our target audience was the entire local community.

Objectives: Our objectives were to 1) increase awareness of CMA by garnering 10 media stories after the initial news release 2) obtain 200,000 media impressions through local media stories and 3) raise $1,000 to care for the sea turtles we rescued. We would do this by including the creation of an “Emergency Sea Turtle Fund” as a media talking point.  

Implementation: The director of media relations sent out the initial press release January 7 (attachment 1). This resulted in 20 television stories that day and throughout the weekend (attachments 2-5), a story in the St. Petersburg Times (attachment 6), the online version of the Tampa Tribune (attachment 7) and several other print and web media stories (attachments 8-10). We had no idea so many turtles would end up needing care. We continued to update the media regularly through e-mails, phone calls and media advisories (attachments 11-18). Local and regional media outlets followed our efforts steadily (attachments 19-31). We also used our website and social networking sites (including Twitter, Facebook and MySpace) to keep the public updated and to publicize our “Emergency Sea Turtle Fund.”  Nationally, USAtoday.com picked up a story (attachment 32). The most rewarding part of this came when we were able to release some of the animals. This provided a perfect opportunity for the public to see our mission and work come full circle. We were able to rescue, rehabilitate and then release the turtles. Releasing 47 of them at once provided the media with a powerful visual. We distributed a press release (attachment 33) and the coverage was amazing (attachments 34-44). That was followed by another sea turtle release later in the month, when an adult Loggerhead named Jo Jo was sent back home on Clearwater Beach (attachment 46). Again, the media generously covered our efforts (attachment 47).  In March, we released 11 more “cold stunned” sea turtles (attachments 48-50). We had solid media coverage for three weeks solid and again in March. This was a CMA record.

Evaluation:  With regard to our original objectives: 1) After sending out the original news release, we received more than 26 stories in television, print and online media outlets. This far exceeded our original goal of 10 media placements on the initial announcement.  Over the next three weeks, we rescued and received 120 sea turtles from all over Florida. As more turtles came in, additional advisories were distributed to the media and posted on our website. We experienced steady coverage of our mission and our work in the media for three weeks solid and then again in March. The Weather Channel even did a story (that aired six times) on our March 2010 release. Altogether, we garnered a total of 176 media stories with 7 million impressions and a publicity value of $196,615 from the entire “cold stun” event (attachment 51). We had no idea the public would be so interested in supporting our work and that so many sea turtles would need care. 2) The media coverage from the initial press release garnered 1.6 million impressions (according to PR Trak) and a publicity value of $22,000 (we only tracked TV story publicity value). This far exceeded our original goal of 200,000 media impressions and is the most coverage we have ever received for any one topic. 3) As the result of publicizing our “Emergency Sea Turtle Fund” to the media and on our Web site, $7,300 was raised. This far exceeded our goal of $1,000. Since the rehabilitation process for endangered and threatened species is expensive and CMA relies on public support to fulfill its mission, this money was put to good use. In addition, during the month of January 2010, CMA attendance was up 22 percent over January 2009, resulting in additional revenue. We believe this is partially due to media coverage from the “cold stun” event.

Budget: There was no budget for this effort and CMA did not spend any money getting the word out about the cold stun event. There is one salaried staff member in the media relations department and she spent about 30 hours writing, and coordinating media and web efforts. All web pages are managed internally, so web stories promoting our efforts and the Emergency Sea Turtle Fund didn’t cost anything.