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If you guys like turtles even half as much as we do, we have some major eye candy for you today.
When we went to Florida last month, one of our must-sees was the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida. We literally planned where we were staying in the Florida Keys around where this hospital was located. A few years ago, we watched a show on Planet Green called (I think) Operation Wild and they went to this hospital. All it took was that episode and we knew that whenever we made it to the FL Keys, we'd be there.
And so we went! It was absolutely one of the coolest things we've done on vacation and all I want to do is go watch sea turtles hatch now. We were lucky enough to see a couple in the wild after we visited when we went snorkeling at Sombrero Reef and it was awesome to be able to identify them after our tour at the Turtle Hospital.
If you're unfamiliar with the Turtle Hospital, it's actually a really great story how they came about. In short, it's originally a hotel and very much so looks like it still, with a lot of the doctors staying onsite to help the turtles day and night. Here's a little bit more about them from their website:
The Turtle Hospital opened its doors 1986 with four main goals: 1) rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, 2) educate the public through outreach programs and visit local schools, 3) conduct and assist with research aiding to sea turtles (in conjunction with state universities), and 4) work toward environmental legislation making the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.
They've opened their doors to tours so you can see exactly what they do and how they help. The tour lasts about and hour and a half and they take you through their entire facility. Our tour guide was fantastic and shared SO much information from it. They showed us the solo treatment pools, the group treatment pools, the small pools for the hatchlings and even a large salt water pool for their permanently disabled turtles that have become long-term residents.
You learn about each and every one of their patients, common injuries that they find with turtles that are brought to them, the different sea turtle species, the types of procedures and medications they do/use, and so much more. I had no idea that we would learn so much, honestly. It gave me so much respect for these creatures.
One of the injuries that seem to be pretty common is lovingly referred to as “bubble butt.” Essentially, if you see a turtle floating and being unable to dive, it most likely has “bubble butt” and needs medical care. They think that air gets trapped under their shell which then forces their rear to rise.
So, to help the turtles out, they add weights to the turtle's shell and this allows them to submerge. Unfortunately, the weights eventually fall off so those that suffer from this condition become permanent residents of the facility. So while I hope that I continue to see turtles in the wild during our oceanic adventures, I hope I never see one floating like this.
During the tour, they showed us contents from a turtle's stomach that was found in the Keys. One of the items it had eaten was something from Australia. Crazy, right?! It just went to show me how, even though we're not living in Florida (not yet at least), there's still a ton I can do even if it's as simple as ensuring my trash goes where it's supposed to. They also share some easy things you can do to help the turtles on their website as well.
If you're planning on visiting, be sure to call ahead to make a reservation for your tour (especially during busy seasons!) Get there at least 10-15 minutes in advance to fill out some paperwork and to learn a ton of information about the turtles and the hospital itself. Tours currently cost $18 for adults, $9 for children 4-12, and children under 4 are free.
I would highly recommend the Turtle Hospital for families visiting the area. It's very informative, interactive and great for any age. You get a chance to feed them, too. All of the staff seem incredibly passionate about what they're doing and it's an experience I definitely won't forget! And if you're lucky, you'll be able to take part in a release!