How To Meet (And Help) Sea Turtles In The Florida Keys

The Turtle Hospital

It was just any normal day in the Keys, except for it ended with an unusual turn of events: Uriel and I ended up adopting a sea turtle named Bender. We didn’t intend on this happening, but if you visit The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, you might just fall in love with an injured turtle just like we did!

The Turtle Hospital

My husband knew a little about what The Turtle Hospital did due to his job at a local dive shop. They often get called up to help rescue an injured turtle somewhere around the islands. The Turtle Hospital provide the space, medical care, and rehabilitation necessary to get injured turtles back to health.

How Injured Turtle Get To The Hospital

If an injured turtle is spotted around the islands, it is reported to the hospital who then arrange for their safe transportation. They are brought in by local volunteers, whether via boat, kayak, or Turtle Hospital ambulance, and given urgent attention every time. In fact they have treated and released over 1500 turtles since 1986!

The Turtle Hospital

What struck me first about seeing these wonderful creatures was how huge they really are up close.

Many of the turtles they have at the facility are young and no where near full-grown, and yet their size is impressive. It is easy to see, therefore, how they can be easily hit by boats around the islands, and can get caught in fishing line. But The Turtle Hospital, around since the 80’s, is dedicated to treating and re-releasing them.

But What Happens When They Can’t Be Re-Released?

All the turtles that come into the hospital are diagnosed and treated, with the hope of being able to re-release them at a later date. Sadly this isn’t always possible, and therefore they house many turtles on a permanent basis. A few that aren’t well enough for the wild but healthy are given to other facilities around the country, a few as far as England, for aquariums and wildlife attractions. In fact it is interesting to know that NO completely healthy sea turtles are legally allowed to be enclosed in the world, as they are an endangered species.

This means that if you have ever seen a sea turtle in an aquarium they have more than likely been rescued and treated, probably by The Turtle Hospital in Marathon!

The Turtle Hospital

What You’ll See At The Turtle Hospital

  • The entrance & gift shop is filled with interesting objects and information. From a huge loggerhead turtle shell to a collection of banned turtle products, it is a really informative start to your visit.
  • A member of staff gives a introductory talk sharing all the different reasons why turtles get injured in the first place and the work they do.
  • You will then be led through the inside of the hospital where you can see the operating rooms and any new arrivals that are in treatment.
  • The pool areas are where you get up close and personal with the sea turtles! The first area houses two very large pools where the turtles are able to swim around together, and you can be just centimetres away from these glorious creatures.
  • Outside there are more rooms with smaller pools, each housing turtles that might be slightly more injured or unable to swim as well. These were lovely to visit but also very sad.
  • The largest pool houses a lot of the permanent residents, such as those with ‘bubble butt’ which is a deformity of the shell due to boat injuries. This is also where you might be lucky enough to meet a new hatchling.

The Turtle Hospital

The Turtle Hospital

The Turtle Hospital

How Much Does It Cost To Visit?

A visit to The Turtle Hospital costs $22 per person, and every penny goes towards the facility. You will most likely agree from your visit is a very good cause. It is not only a lovely afternoon out – each tour takes around 90 minutes – but is a really eye-opening experience that spreads knowledge: an important part of turtle protection.

What Can You Do To Help RIGHT NOW?

One of the main reasons turtles get sent to the hospital is an ‘impaction’. This means that their intestines have a blockage, which is mainly caused by fishing line and plastic bags. If your visit opens your eyes to the dangers of rubbish pollution, then this is a success in itself. It might make you think next time you are asked if you need a bag at the store.

The Turtle Hospital

The best part of the whole experience is being able to see these majestic creatures up close. If you are a diver you may well have been lucky enough to see one in the wild, but most people never get this chance. They all have very different personalities, and funny little quirks, just like we do, and are truly amazing creatures to witness first hand.

You never know, you might just find yourself adopting a turtle just like Uriel and I did. It’s the best $35 dollars we spent this year, that’s for sure!

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