After riding along “Old Seven,” (post here) we continued our bike trip on the Overseas Heritage Trail, which extends a total of 103 miles, crossing 37 of The Key’s 42 scenic bridges. On our ride we passed some of the infamously gnarly looking Marathon iguanas and a lineup of Porky’s plump little piglets (below)!
Not sure we want to hear, or smell, whatever “live music” they’re talking about here…
We continued along a few more miles until we saw a sign that read, “Turtle Hospital.” Curious, we parked our bikes and decided to see what this place was all about.
Before we knew it, we were signed up for a tour and were about to enter a world of turtles that we never knew existed.
On our tour, we learned about the different species of turtles, where they nest throughout the world and why they are becoming more and more endangered.
Some of the most common injuries incurred by sea turtles include boat strikes, litter entanglement, Fibropapilloma (FP) tumors, caused by pollution in the water, and impactions, caused by the ingestion of litter. Jelly fish, the #1 menu item for sea turtles, are often mistaken for floating plastic bags and deflated balloons that land in our oceans. While humans seem to be the greatest threat to the survival of this species, we have the power to also be their greatest hope.
Cindy, our fun and knowledgeable tour guide, went on to teach us about the different treatments and procedures that the Turtle Hospital performs to save their “patients.” While some are just in need of a safe haven to rest while their wounds heal, others, in more dire situations, may need surgery to remove tumors, hooks, etc. Meet Tiny, a 265 pound loggerhead, who suffered from a boat hit. You can see a portion of the large crack down the center of this shell:
Here you can see a little guy in the operating room having his Fibropapilloma (FP) tumors removed. These tumors can grow to be quite large, causing a number of painful complications, and if let untreated, are fatal. You can see an incredible FB transformation here. It was really sweet to see that as they performed the surgery, one of the nurses rubbed the turtle’s belly, making sure he got a proper dose of love too (no worries, he couldn’t feel a thing).:
One of the reasons we loved this place was the story behind how it was all started. Richie Moretti had just moved from Orlando to Marathon when he decided to buy a fifties-era motel that had a saltwater swimming pool. After installing a new freshwater pool for swimming, Richie started to use the old pool as an aquarium, filling it with local fish to fascinate guests and educate the local school children. One day, a kid asked Richie why there were no turtles in his pool. Richie intrigued, started looking into it and discovered that there were laws preventing the ownership of turtles, unless certain permits were obtained. In order to obtain one of these permits Richie would have to take turtles in for rehabilitation, which was a great need in The Keys at this time. So, Richie took in 2 Green Turtles under his first permit and the Turtle Hospital was born! Look at that happy little turtle face!
One of the best parts of the tour, for us and the turtles, was feeding time! This one looks like he’s going cross eyed trying to aim for those pellets! Love how he looks back as if to say, “Thanks dude.”
With a little time and a lot of love, the majority of the Turtle Hospital’s patients will experience the joy of their very own release day! As they get healthier and healthier you can see just how extraordinary these creatures truly are:
If you find yourself on your way to the The Keys, be sure to pop your head in this incredible, hope-filled place. And if you feel so inspired, you can adopt your very own “Squirt” or donate from right where you are. This little baby Loggerhead might even show you some fin… noggin’, DUUUDE!
Oo, and one more thing. If you happen to come across a sea turtle emergency, please immediately call 1-888-404-FWCC.