Scared you, didn’t I? Yes, we spent some time in the hospital, but don’t worry, we’re fine. It wasn’t a people hospital, it was a turtle hospital. Did you even know there are hospitals just for turtles?
Actually, there are several of them around the world, dedicated to saving sea turtles. But the original one is located in Marathon, Florida. We have driven past it several times in our two trips to the Florida Keys, so we decided to stop and check it out.
Housed in an old motel, the hospital began when Richie Moretti, a Volkswagon dealer from Orlando, bought an old 1950s-era motel in the 1980s. After installing a new swimming pool, Moretti decided to turn the original salt water swimming pool into a huge aquarium stocked with local marine animals. The aquarium quickly became a hit with motel guests and the local school kids, but they kept asking why he didn’t have a turtle.
As it turned out, sea turtles were protected by law and special permits were needed to keep them. Wildlife officials told him that if he wanted a permit his facility would have to be a rehabilitation center for injured turtles. Moretti purchased the nightclub next door to his motel, renovated it, and the Turtle Hospital was born. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma flooded the old motel with more than five feet of water and it was no longer usable. Since this income from the motel funded the hospital, a 501(c) nonprofit organization was created to keep it going. Today the old motel units are used for storage and housing for some of the staff.
Our tour started with a presentation on sea turtles and the challenges faced in protecting them, and then an opportunity to peer into the hospital’s operating room, with its state-of-the-art equipment. Here they perform all kinds of procedures on turtles, from removing fishhooks and fishing line that wraps around their flippers, to surgery to repair injuries from boat propellers and shark attacks.
Next we went into the covered pool area, where recovering turtles are kept in large plastic aerated tubs and monitored carefully until they are either ready to be released back into the wild, or the decision is made that they cannot survive on their own and they become permanent residents at the Turtle Hospital or another approved sanctuary.
This is Duke, who was being moved from one enclosure to another when Terry took his picture. Duke is a green turtle who was found in Snake Creek on Islamorada suffering from a boat propeller strike and an intestinal blockage. It is amazing the things that turtles eat, everything from pieces of fishing net, to bottle caps, pop top tabs, and anything else that crosses their path. Since their bodies can’t process this trash, they become impacted. The hospital staff treats them with antibiotics and laxatives so they can pass the foreign objects.
This is Finn, a small loggerhead turtle whose right front flipper and both rear flippers were injured and had to be amputated. While Finn will never be able to live in the wild again, it is doing just fine at the hospital. I say “it” because it is impossible to determine a sea turtle’s gender until they are adults, and then only by way of surgery. Sea turtles can live to be up to 100 years old in the wild, and grow to over 300 pounds, with some giants going over 400 pounds, so Finn has a long way to go yet.
And this handsome critter is Fisher, a young loggerhead who was hatched in August, 2011 as part of a research project. Its spiny looking shell is to protect it from predators until it grows large enough to have a stronger shell and the ability to protect itself.
There were a lot of turtles at the hospital, many of them in the saltwater pool, and they were hard to see in the fading light. But when our tour guide threw some lettuce to them they quickly clustered around to enjoy their snack.
The Turtle Hospital is located at 2396 Overseas Highway in Marathon, at mile marker 48.5. It was an interesting tour and we learned a lot. It’s well worth a stop on your next trip to the Florida Keys.
Thought For The Day – I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone.