On a recent trip to the Florida Keys, our family spent the morning at the very first sea turtle hospital in the U.S. When we visited the Keys last year, Ben was heartbroken that we were not able to fit in a trip to see the sea turtles. So I knew this was the one place we needed to visit this trip. My animal-loving veterinarian wannabe can never get enough of trips to places like this!
The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL provides a 90-minute guided educational tour. The Turtle Hospital opened its doors 1986 with four main goals:
- rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat
- educate the public through outreach programs and visit local schools,
- conduct and assist with research aiding to sea turtles (in conjunction with state universities), and
- work toward environmental legislation making the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.
While we waited for our guided educational tour to begin, we were able to spend some in the education center where the walls are filled with colorful, informative posters and presentations about sea turtles, as well as examples of all of their shells.
We were greeted by the lively Rachel as our tour guide. We started in a classroom area, where guided by a very nice PowerPoint presentation, Rachel introduced us to the sea turtles of Florida. She shared information about which turtles can be found in the waters near Florida, which ones were threatened or endangered (and why), prey and predators, what the most common illnesses and injuries were, and how we can help. She had a few turtle shells for us to handle up close as well. They are so beautiful. It’s easy to see why so many have been endangered through poaching.
After the presentation, Rachel led us through a quick tour of the hospital, showing us the x-ray room and the operating room. She shared about the most common illness they see in the green sea turtle, a virus called fibropapilloma that causes huge cauliflower-like tumors on the turtles.
It was interesting to learn that many turtles have trouble with gas, usually caused by impactions when they consume the trash with which we humans litter the ocean. This causes their backsides to float atop the water, making it impossible to dive deep down where their food source is. The condition is called “bubble butt.” They even have a resident turtle named for it. They literally treat these turtles with Metamucil and Beano and (hopefully) are able to release them back into the ocean. Until they can, they use weights on their shells to help.
Hanging in the OR is a picture of the largest sea turtle the hospital has ever treated. I can’t remember how much this Leatherback weighed, but it’s obvious that he was HUGE!
Rachel also took us on a tour of the areas outdoors where the sick and injured turtles are kept for rehabilitation and treatment, and the larger pool where their permanent residents live. Sometimes the turtles are just too injured to safely return to the ocean. As sad as that is, it’s wonderful that they have a home where they are well taken care of. Here you can see one of their permanent residents is missing a front flipper.
While we were learning about the turtles currently cared for, we observed one of the rehab specialists taking pictures of the eyes of several turtles. These turtles all had eye surgery previously, so she was taking pictures to send to the veterinarian ophthalmologist to give updates.
Being this close up also gave us a view of the scars left from the removal of some fibropapilloma tumors.
Interestingly, the Turtle hospital is housed in what used to be a 1950’s seaside motel. Many of the rehab specialists are able to live onsite because of the rooms available, allowing 24 hour care of the turtles who need it.
What would a hospital be without an ambulance, right? The Turtle hospital uses this one to transport patients. Most of the turtles are saved by boaters out on the water. The ambulance goes to wherever on shore the turtles are brought.
As you can see, a field trip to The Turtle Hospital is both educational and fun! We had such a great time, but this opportunity has also sparked interest in learning more about sea turtles and conservation for Ben. I’ve put together some resources for him to learn more in the coming weeks and listed those below.
We highly recommend a visit there if you are ever in south Florida, near the Keys. It’s worth a drive from Miami and surrounding areas as well. Usual cost is $18 for adults and $9 for children age 4-12. Space is limited, so be sure to call for your reservation. Ben is already counting the days (all 365 of them) until our next trip down!
Visit The Turtle Hospital Facebook page for updates on the patients and resident turtles there.
To learn more about sea turtles, check out these resources:
Sea Turtles Unit Studies
Sea Turtles Unit Study from Homeschool Share (free)
Sea Turtles (this site has a printable PDF for each type of sea turtle– amazing!)
Sea Turtles Book Basket
Curiosity Quest: Sea Turtle Hospital (filmed at the Turtle Hospital!)
Arts and Crafts
Disclaimer: The Turtle Hospital invited our family to visit as their guests. We are grateful they did. Our opinions of the hospital are honest and true, as is our recommendation to visit. Thank you Rachel, Liz, and all the wonderful staff at The Turtle Hospital for having us. We’ll be back next time we visit the Florida Keys.