June 23, 2017

Florida Keys: Visiting the Turtle Hospital

Turtle Hospital

Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida

My older girls (ages 7 & 9) and I are exploring the Florida Keys this week and yesterday we visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon. I love checking out educational activities when we travel and the Turtle Hospital was definitely worth a stop for us.

If you visit the Turtle Hospital, be sure to get there at least 15 minutes before your tour begins to check out the educational displays. You’ll learn about sea turtles, as well as the work the staff does to rescue, rehabilitate and release the sea turtles. There are also several books of media clips worth flipping through to read more about the good work of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

Clare and Kate at Turtle Hospital

Clare & Kate with a Leatherback Turtle

The tour kicked off with a 30-minute slide show presentation from our guide, Kim, who told us all about the five sea turtles found in the Florida Keys, including loggerhead, green, hawksbill, leatherback and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. We also learned why sea turtles are an endangered species, how the Turtle Hospital helps sea turtles and why this hospital was founded in the first place.

Following the presentation, we got to see the area where they do turtle surgeries. While there were no procedures taking place while we were there, we learned that surgeries are usually scheduled early in the week during the morning hours, so keep this in mind if you plan a visit the Turtle Hospital since visitors are able to look in to watch as a turtle surgery takes place.

Hunter the Turtle

Hunter, a Loggerhead Turtle Being Treated for Lock Jaw

Next, we went outside to meet each of the current patients and long-term guests. Most turtles are separated in small pools (about the size of a plastic baby pool, only with much taller sides to keep the turtles in) as they heal from boat injuries, Fibropapilloma tumors, fishing line entanglements and health issues caused by ingesting debris, like cigarette filters and plastic bags.

Several other turtles – the long-term guests – swim day-after-day in a large swimming pool. These turtles had injuries so severe that they can never be released safely into the wild. One of these permanent residents, Bender, only eats shrimp-stuffed squid, so I think that’s a pretty good set-up!

Kate Feeding the Sea Turtles

Kate Feeding the Sea Turtles

Once we met all of the turtles, my girls were able to feed the turtles, which eat food pellets called “catfish chow.” Similar to feeding ducks, they threw the pellets into the water, and they were happily greeted by our new sea turtle friends. It was a great experience. Our guide, Kim, was very friendly and extremely knowledgeable. It was well-worth the 90-minutes we spent at the Turtle Hospital.

Interestingly, the Turtle Hospital is a former mom-and-pop motel from the ‘50s. Today, the motel rooms on the left side house supplies, while the motel rooms on the right side are for staff and visiting doctors (someone is there round-the-clock to care for ailing turtles). There is also a huge 100,000 gallon pool for the permanent turtle residents, like Rebel, Montel and Bubble Butt.

If you decide to visit the Turtle Hospital, I encourage you to make reservations, particularly during busy times. We took a 10 am tour on a Tuesday and it was completely full (40 people), though it was during Easter week. Admission is $15 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 4-12.

A quick final note that if you ever see a sea turtle in distress, do not touch the sea turtle (they are an endangered species), but rather call for assistance. If you are in Florida, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC.

Disclaimer: I was granted free admission to the Turtle Hospital for myself and my two daughters. However, the views and opinions expressed here are purely my own. 

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