JUNO BEACH — Loggerhead Marinelife Center CEO Kyle Van Houtan resigned Tuesday morning, according to a news release from the center issued Tuesday afternoon.
Van Houtan started the job in July 2021. Shortly after, the center discovered issues with water quality that lead to the death of three sea turtles.
While Van Houtan said the center was addressing issues with sea turtle tank salinity and small bubbles in the water, staff decried his communication style. More than a dozen staffers have resigned from the center since Van Houtan’s start, The Palm Beach Post reported April 27.
The center announced that former County Administrator Bob Weisman and former Chief Financial Officer of Florida Jeff Atwater will to chair an operational improvement committee following the departure of Van Houtan.
“While we have been committed to supporting Dr. Van Houtan, we understand his decision, thank him for everything he has accomplished in his time with us, and wish him the very best,” Loggerhead board chairman Brian Waxman said Tuesday.
Read our report on the issues:What happened to the turtles at Loggerhead Marinelife Center? Why the tanks are empty.
Who was Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s embattled CEO?
Prior to joining Loggerhead, Van Houtan was the chief scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.
Previously, he was the marine turtle assessment program leader for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He holds a doctorate degree in ecology and environmental ethics from Duke University.
But his communication style may have contributed to resignations by outgoing Loggerhead staff members and is the basis of at least one lawsuit.
In late March, the center’s former marketing director sued Loggerhead, accusing Van Houtan and the center’s management of misleading her and the public about the water-quality issues in the tanks.
In the lawsuit, Marilu Flores called the experience a “nightmare” and detailed attempts by Van Houtan to cover up water quality issues, such as hiring a crisis management firm and directing staff members “not to tell anyone” about the center’s problems.
Now the mass resignations have put the center’s permits at risk.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issues permits to “qualified individuals” to handle sea turtles instead of institutions, and staff members say at least 20 full-time employees have resigned or are in the process of resigning their positions.
Loggerhead has 30 days to hire new “qualified individuals” who can hold the permits, or the center is at risk of losing them and its abilities to host and rehabilitate turtles.
This story will be updated.