If you know me, you know that I absolutely love turtles. I have had them as pets all my life and currently have four sulcata tortoises. I’ve seen them on the beaches of Tortuguero, Costa Rica, released hatchlings in Monterrico, Guatemala, and swam with Green Sea Turtles in Akumal Bay.
For years I’ve heard of a place in Marathon Key called the Turtle Hospital. It’s a non-profit rehabilitation center for injured and sick sea turtles that was founded in 1986.
I finally got my chance to visit the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key last week for a video shoot. We took a behind-the-scenes tour and got up close and personal with some of the hospital’s patients. Visiting the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key is something that everyone can do – it’s open to the public and a must-do if you’re down in the Florida Keys.
A visit will give you the opportunity to learn about the different species of sea turtle (current patients include Green, Kemp’s Ridley, Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles) and how they are rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
Betty, the head of the organization, gave us a tour of the property. We visited the surgery suite before making our way to the pools. The Turtle Hospital currently had 40+ patients under the care of a devoted team of people. The hospital even has its own custom ambulance that it dispatches to pick up turtles in emergency situations.
Several of the patients I met were boat accident survivors that were struck by either propeller blades or the hull of a boat. Others have fibropapillomatosis, an aggressive herpes-like virus that causes tumors to grow mainly around the eyes and flippers. Many turtles come in because they were tangled in fishing line, or have ingested pieces of garbage and are very sick.
Whatever the case may be, the Turtle Hospital does everything they can to save every turtle that they see. Unfortunately, some have to be euthanized due to the severity of their injuries.
But the real reason everyone visits the Turtle Hospital is to see these amazing reptiles up close. In the wild they are constantly in motion so it may be the only time that most people will get to see them in person.
Sea turtles have been around for millions of years, swimming the oceans while dinosaurs roamed our planet. Every species of sea turtle is endangered, so the hospital does all it can to educate the public on human impact to their habitats. I learned so much during my visit and I’m so happy that I got to spend time with my favorite animal in the world.
Admission to the Sea Turtle Hospital is $22 for adults and $11 for kids 4-12 (kids under 4 are free). For reservations or program information, please call 305-743-2552. The Sea Turtle Hospital is located directly on Route 1 at Mile Marker 48.5 in Marathon, the heart of the Florida Keys.
Remember if you spot a sick or injured Sea Turtle in Florida, you should immediately contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (*FWC or #FWC on your cell phone).
Have you been to the Turtle Hospital before? Leave us a comment below!
Photography by Carlos de Varona from Chromahouse.
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