When local fisherman George Grey walked quickly across the white sands of Pensacola Beach, with a single, tiny baby dolphin in tow, he never imagined that one simple act of kindness would start a local conservation revolution. George along with co- founders Richard Everett and Julie Parvin formed a coalition of volunteers, made up of local concerned citizens, to respond to the rescue of “Kiwi” a one month old Pantropical- spotted dolphin. Unable to move or touch the animal, due to federal laws, the dedicated volunteer group stood strong for seventy-two hours in waist deep waters, as they formed a human fence around the orphaned baby dolphin. The fragile “Kiwi” remained safe inside her circle of new friends protected from predators and certain death, as George rushed to complete the permitting process. Finally with the paperwork in order, George entered the water and accepted the very first patient to the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge.
Refuge founders may have never planned on becoming the areas first wildlife rehabilitation center, but they could not deny the overwhelming needs of the local wildlife and residents. In September 1994, the refuge was officially incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation registered with the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. The organization was then granted 501(c) 3 tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and became permitted by the State of Florida and the federal government to rehabilitate all species of wildlife.
For the first six years, the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge operated from volunteer homes. In March of 2000, refuge leaders recognized the necessity of a central base of operations and leased a commercial warehouse on Mountain Drive in Destin. By establishing a permanent residence, the refuge became more accessible to the public and local recognition by the community grew.
As the number of admissions continued to increase and a master plan was developed, additional space and more appropriate facilities were required. In early 2005 with the help of passionate volunteers and a zealous community, the refuge was able to earn enough funds to relocate to a larger facility and hire a professional staff to oversee its operations. The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge leaders were then able to focus on implementing the master plan and develop public outreach programs.