Monday 13 November 2023

The Turtle Hospital, Marathon Key, Florida

Recently I wrote about our trip to the Florida Keys, and our attempts to spot sea turtles from the Old Seven Mile Bridge. Unfortunately our efforts were unsuccessful, but luckily as an alternative we were also able to visit the wonderful Turtle Hospital just down the road!

The Turtle Hospital, Marathon Key, Florida

We visited on the final day of our holiday before driving to Miami for our flight that evening. It's recommended to book tickets in advance, but there seemed to be plenty of availability. We booked the evening before, and lots of people were accommodated without booking. You must visit as part of a guided tour, which lasts around 90 minutes. 

Our visit began with a short presentation in the education centre. We were shown pictures of the different species of marine turtle, and learned to identify them. We were also told about the problems that the turtles face in the ocean, both locally and worldwide, and all about the work of the Turtle Hospital in treatment and rehabilitation. It was really interesting! 

The Turtle Hospital, Florida Keys

Then we were able to watch a turtle having an operation, which was fascinating to see. Many turtles rescued suffer from FP (fibropapillomatosis), benign tumours that can cause problems with vision, feeding and movement. It can either be the reason for the initial rescue or discovered when they are admitted for something else, like a boat injury. It seems to be caused by toxins ingested by eating weeds in the sea and is very common. These tumours can be removed gradually using laser surgery leaving just a small scar, and that is what they are doing in the photograph below.

Sea turtle having surgery to remove tumours

In total at the centre we saw forty-three turtles. The turtles which are being treated before release are kept in large tanks. This one has a flipper missing after an injury, but is still able to be released.

Sea turtle with missing flipper ready for release

There are however some turtles which need to remain at the centre. For example there was a turtle at  that is blind, and many of the turtles suffer from a condition called 'bubble butt'. This is caused when the turtle suffers an injury which traps gases inside the shell and causes it to float. Weights can be attached to help the turtle to swim, but as the turtle grows it's not a practical long term solution for a released turtle. So there is a large outdoor tank at the hospital which houses these turtles and is filled with sea water (and smaller fish that have made their way in through the pipes!)

Sea turtles that can't be released in large outdoor tank

At the end of the tour you have the opportunity to feed these turtles which was a lot of fun.

Feeding turtles at the Turtle Hospital

I was interested to learn that any turtles that you see in captivity, for example in an aquarium, are all turtles that can't be released back into the wild for whatever reason. The places hosting the turtle are usually proud, and happy to share more information. For example I looked up OD who now lives at Shark Reef Aquarium in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, who was rescued by the turtle hospital, and Miko at the Frost Museum in Miami that we saw in the museum the previous week.

As you can probably tell I learned a huge amount from our visit to the Turtle Hospital, and we were all really glad that we made the effort to visit. There was such a lot to see and it was so interesting. I would definitely recommend a visit if you are in the area!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love reading your comments!