Located on mile marker 48.5, and only a few blocks away from the start of the Seven Mile Bridge in The Florida Keys is Marathon Key’s popular Turtle Hospital.
A 501(c)(3) charitable corporation, the Turtle Hospital opened its doors in 1986 with the goals of rehabbing injured sea turtles, educating the public, conducting and assisting with research to help sea turtles and, most importantly, work towards environmental legislation to make beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.
The Turtle Hospital, which offers daily guided educational tours, features some of the most up-to-date equipment and technology to help perform a number of surgeries and to care for the various injured species of turtles that end up at the hospital. During the tours, visitors can sometimes see hospital veterinarians performing surgery on a rescued turtle on TV monitors positioned on the outside of the surgery room.
Many of the turtles that are rescued by the Turtle Hospital are found by locals or visitors in the Keys who spot wounded turtles at sea. Once contacted, the hospital — which is open every day — will dispatch one of their Turtle Ambulances to locate the injured or sick turtle and bring it in to try to help it. Not only are those individuals that find the injured turtles considered heroes, but they also get the privilege to name the turtle.
Once at the facility, many of the injured or sick turtles are able to be rehabilitated and later released. Some of the turtles that end up at the hospital are treated for a variety of issues, including intestinal impaction caused by the ingestion of foreign materials such as plastic bags and microplastics, shell damage caused by boat collisions, entanglement injuries from fishing gear, and even fibropapillomatosis, a tumor-causing disease which affects more than half of the juvenile green sea turtle population.
The Turtle Hospital features an expansive rehabilitation facility, which includes 23 individual tanks ranging from 150 to 800 gallons, in addition to the massive 100,000-gallon saltwater pool — all covered with shaded cloth to make sure its inhabitants are comfortable.
Divided into various sections depending on the size of the turtle and the ailment, the hospital has a dedicated section for those turtles afflicted by the Fibropapilloma virus (FP). In partnership with the University of Florida and the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, the hospital has been collecting data and funding research to better understand how turtles become affected by FP, which is currently the only disease affecting wild animals on a global basis.
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The most impressive section is the massive 100,000-gallon saltwater pool, which houses sea turtles that are permanently disabled and aren’t able to be released back into the wild. Injuries range from boat hits that cause bubble-butt syndrome (and yes, that is a real thing) to missing too many flippers.
While some of the injured turtles will live the remainder of their lives at the hospital, others are adopted out to zoos and aquariums around the world.
To date, the Turtle Hospital has successfully treated and released over 1,500 sea turtles since it opened its doors. Those interested in watching a release can catch it live on the hospital’s Facebook page, as well as frequent live streams providing fans updates on some of the hospital’s resident turtles and new patients.
It was interesting to learn that depending on the injuries and the specific species of turtles, the hospital implements a variety of ways to release the animals back and in different locations.
According to the hospital’s website, Green Turtles are taken to a spot 20 miles north of Marathon Key in the Florida Bay, Loggerheads are released at a local beach or launched off a boat into the gulf or ocean, and Kemp’s Ridley turtles are taken 70 miles west of Key West out to the coral reefs of Dry Tortugas National Park.
How You Can Help
The hospital does an amazing job providing visitors with information and a firsthand look at the consequences of single-use plastics and the consequences that littering can have on these beautiful animals and ecosystem that lives in the surrounding waters.
We highly recommend booking a 90-minute educational tour through the facility and the turtle rehabilitation area. You even get to the opportunity to feed the turtles in the massive saltwater pool at the end. Tours can be booked online on the hospital’s website or via phone by calling 305-743-2552. It’s highly recommended you book your tour in advance, as they do tend to sell out quickly.
Admission for adults is $27, while admission for children ages 4-12 is $13, and children under 4 can participate for free. This is a perfect family-friendly activity when visiting The Keys or South Florida.
The hospital is located on Marathon Key at 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon, Florida 33050, by mile marker 48.5.
By Joyce Oliva
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