Overall Score: A
Cost: B ($22 per adult, $11 kids 4-12, kids under 4 are free)
Fun Potential: B
Along the Overseas Highway in Marathon, Florida is a bright green old motel that is home to endangered sea turtles. This old motel is the Turtle Hospital, a veterinary hospital for sick and injured sea turtles found in the Florida Keys. Their mission here is to rescue the sick or injured turtles, treat them, and eventually release them if their injury or condition permits.
At the hospital, you buy a ticket for a tour of the facility and the turtle patients. This small building that houses the ticket counter and gift shop also houses a small museum featuring various turtle exhibits. The tour starts with a short informative talk with a video presentation. After, you walk outside to tour the various tanks where the turtles live. The tour lasts about 90 minutes and is quite educational. You can even feed some of the turtles as well!
Tour guides were very knowledgable and quite passionate about the hospital’s mission. Not only does the staff serve to educate people about the turtles, they also want to educate the public about the importance of keeping beaches and oceans clean and safe for all creatures.
At the hospital, common injuries include boat strikes, entanglement, and digestive impactions. Boat strikes to turtles usually result in shell cuts and deformities. Sometimes boat strikes cause an air pocket to form under the shell which causes the turtle to float. This causes a huge problem because floating turtles cannot swim under the water and find food. Weights are then attached to the turtles’ shells so they are able to submerge. Because these weights can fall off after some time, these turtles have to become permanent residents of the hospital.
Other turtles are healing from impactions (intestinal blockage), the result of eating anything found in the ocean. Plastics, wood, small metals, fishing nets, and paper are among some of the things found in a turtle’s stomach. Some patients are treated from entanglements by fishing and buoy lines. Turtles can lose flippers or die as a result of getting trapped in these lines.
The turtles pictured above are suffering from fibropapillomatosis. This is a common condition seen and treated at the Turtle Hospital. This condition is caused from a virus that causes tumors to grow on sea turtles. Often, these tumors, though benign, can affect a turtle’s vision, ability to swim, or affect internal organs. Sea turtles with fibropapillomatosis must undergo surgery as there is no cure or vaccine. Scientists are still working to discover the cause.
I thoroughly enjoyed touring the hospital, visiting the turtles, and learning about their injuries. The staff here do wonderful work and their compassion and care for the creatures is obvious. As a charitable corporation, the Turtle Hospital is supported through the cost of the tours, their gift shop, turtle adoptions, and donations. Information on membership and adoptions can be found on their webpage.
If you are in the Keys, this truly is a nice place to visit. Kids will love seeing all the swimming turtles and getting so close to them (but no touching!). This is one of those places that you leave with a good feeling – knowing there are people who are caring for such a beloved endangered species and are encouraging others to do the same.