I’ve always had an affinity for sea turtles, which I also share with my husband (an ex-ecology major turned attorney). Interestingly, Ryan spent a summer on a shrimp boat participating in a sea turtle research program and once gave CPR to a Green sea turtle who became stuck in the boat’s net, saving the little Green’s life (true story). Because of this, we knew that getting some “sea turtle time” in while on our trip to Key West was a given.
If you find yourself near Miami or in the Florida Keys, I’d recommend that you carve out 90 minutes to visit the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL. The Sea Turtle Hospital is a non-profit dedicated to rescuing, rehabbing, and releasing endangered sea turtles, specifically Greens, Loggerheads, and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles which inhabit the Keys area. Just by visiting the hospital, you’re helping the turtles since your ticket sale serves as a donation to the facility.
The hospital treats sea turtles for just about any ailment you can think of, including flipper amputations caused by fishing line entrapment, shell damage caused by boat collusions, stomach impactions caused by the turtle ingesting litter, and fibropapilloma tumors caused by pollution. Once the turtles are rescued and patched up, the hospital aims to release them back into the wild. Per the organization’s website, over 1,500 turtles have been released since the facility’s opening in 1986.
Why visit the hospital? Not only are your ticket and souvenir purchases needed to fund the non-profit, but a visit to the hospital is a really neat experience!
Your 90 minute tour begins with an informational presentation given by one of the knowledgable hospital employees. The presentation educates you on the hospital’s patients (the types of sea turtles found in the Keys), the reasons the turtles become patients (most stemming from the impact of humans in their environment), and what the hospital does for the turtles (how they are treated).
After the presentation, you’re shown the hospital and a turtle operating room. While we visited we were lucky enough to watch a live surgery being performed! Specifically, we saw a fibropapilloma tumor removal from a Green turtle.
After that, we were shown the turtle tanks. Each “patient” has its own story, which was explained to us by our guide. It was fascinating to hear each turtle’s tale, how they were injured and what the hospital is doing to rehab them.
We saw most every size of Green and Loggerhead turtle you can imagine – including brand new baby hatchlings that were recently found in a sewer.
The tour ended with us being shown the facility’s main turtle pool where we saw the larger turtles and the hospital’s “permanent residents” (turtles that can’t ever be released back into the wild due to their physical injuries). The tour ended on a high note – being allowed to feed the turtles “turtle chow”!
Can’t make the trek to Marathon to visit the hospital? You can still help by donating, becoming a member, adopting a turtle or by purchasing turtle swag from the hospital’s online store. After my visit, I scored an awesome pair of turtle socks that I can’t wait to wear proudly this fall!
Want to visit? Here’s what you need to know:
Location: 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon, Florida 33050
Guided Tour Price: $18 for Adults and $9 for Children
Hours of Operation: 9am-6pm
Tours: Daily at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm (Reservations recommend).