Marine institute provides refuge in unlikely location

The Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute has been rescuing marine mammals for 10 years. Photo contributed

FYI

To celebrate its 10th year, the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute is inviting the public to a soiree on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara. Tickets are available at www.cimwi.org or at 805-364-0441.

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By Robin Laroche

Fairy tales do come true, and some even start here in Santa Barbara.

Imagine that you are driving down the Central Coast and you stop somewhere between Gaviota and Goleta. You see an abandoned building, and suddenly the dreams that you once thought were distant become a tangible goal.

So you decide to share this vision with your significant other, saying that this old building could be a perfect place to build a sanctuary — a sanctuary where you can rescue coastal marine animals, heal them, nurse them back to health, and return them to the wild. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

What you don’t know is that your significant other will soon become your wife and a huge driving force behind your vision, and this old building — which happens to be an old school house that has been a local icon for years — will soon become your rescues’ safe haven.

That is exactly what happened to Dr. Sam Dover.

Since Dover was 5 years old, the first time he brought home a baby bunny to nurse back to health, he knew he wanted to rescue animals in need.

“I was always a water baby and animal guy,” he recalls, so it is no wonder that his desire to treat animals turned into the dream to be a marine biologist.

After finishing his degree in Missouri, Dover spent 10 years as a veterinarian at Sea World.

“My favorite part of the job was always the rescues,” he says of his time both in San Diego and Orlando.

Though he spent the majority of his time with marine mammals, he still dabbled in exotic animal veterinary science, which essentially led him to the Santa Barbara Zoo in 1999.

It did not take long for him to realize that there needed to be some sort of local sanctuary to rescue and release injured aquatic animals that often roll up on our beaches. That was when he and his wife, Ruth, began turning his dream to reality.

“The dream was just so clear,” she said, “that it became a thing and I told Sam, ‘Let’s make it happen!’”

It just so happened that the old building happened to be the Vista Del Mar Union School on land owned by JJ Hollister and family, and through mutual friends, they became acquainted.

In 2002 Sam and Ruth applied for their 501(c)3 nonprofit designation to serve the Santa Barbara and Ventura coastline to rescue and release injured marine wildlife. As the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute (CIMWI), their dream became a reality.

The Hollister family donated the school facility for the Dovers’ use in 2006, and in 2011 they signed the deed to gift the land to CIMWI as a permanent home.

Since the start of CIMWI, Dover has opened his doors to students of veterinary science. He teaches three to four courses a year with a focus on rescue techniques and supervised live skill training in marine medicinal practices.

CIMWI has about 100 volunteers that help run the day-to-day operation.

To celebrate its 10th year, CIMWI is inviting the public to a soiree on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara. Tickets are available at www.cimwi.org or at 805-364-0441.