Driving south down the Overseas Highway in Marathon, Florida, on the right-hand side of the road is a large light green building. It looks like any number of other small mom and pop hotels on this long stretch of highway. This little-hidden haven is the Turtle Hospital, where passionate volunteers and a team of doctors and researchers help injured sea turtles.
The former Hidden Harbor Motel is now home to the Turtle Hospital. This unique hospital has three primary responsibilities: Rehabilitation, Research, and Release.
Seven Species of Sea Turtles
Walking around the gift shop before our tour gave us the chance to learn about these graceful sea creatures. There are seven species of sea turtles: green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, olive ridley, and the flatback (which only lives in Australia). Of these seven species, five of them can be found in the waters of South Florida: green, loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley. During the summer months, when water activities are at their highest is also when Florida’s sea turtle population is at its highest – approximately 50,000 sea turtles call Florida waters home.
The largest of these beautiful creatures is the leatherback. These massive creatures can grow up to 8′ in length, can travel thousands of miles and dive hundreds of feet into the ocean depths. One of the causes for the decline of leatherbacks is a common threat to all sea life – ingestion of plastic bags. The rarest sea turtle is the Kemp’s Ridley, named for Richard Kemp of Key West. Also the smallest, they grow to approximately 28”. South Padre Island, Texas is the only beach in the U.S. where they nest.
Looking to spot a sea turtle or two in Florida? With approximately 68,000 loggerhead turtle nests in Florida each year, you are sure to locate one of these turtles if you diligently seek them out. Loggerheads get their name from their huge heads and powerful jaws, designed to make quick work of breaking the shells on mollusks, crabs and other tasty crustaceans that make up their diet. Green turtles are the only vegetarians in the bunch, grazing on a diet of delicious seagrass. Once treasured for it’s sweet, fatty meat, these turtles often found themselves served as turtle soup.
Rehabilitation at the Turtle Hospital
Treating an assortment of turtle injuries is one of the tenets of the Turtle Hospital. Performing flipper amputations caused by turtles becoming entangled in fishing lines or nets is a routine surgery at the hospital. Some turtles are suffering from shell damage caused by collisions with boat propellers. These crashes leave lasting scars and can take out chunks of the turtle’s shell. This malady is known as “Bubble Butt” syndrome.
Affecting over 50% of the global turtle population is Fibropapilloma, an infectious virus that causes devastating tumors to the turtles. Collaborating with the University of Georgia College of Vet Medicine, the hospital is researching the causes of Fibropapilloma, and hopefully being able to isolate the causes.
Depending on their species, there are diverse locations and ways to release the turtles back into their natural environs. North of Marathon in the Florida Bay is the choice for setting free Green turtles. Kemp’s Ridleys are routinely taken out to the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles west of Key West and released on the coral reefs. You can follow along on the Turtle Hospital blog to find out when the public releases will take place. What a fun way to spend an afternoon than assisting in a turtle release?
Permanent Residents of the Turtle Hospital
Some of the turtles brought in aren’t able to be released and are permanent residents at the hospital. When we were there, the residents included Bubble Butt, April, Rebel, Montel, Bender, Coastie, George, and Chance. Looking for the perfect gift for someone? You can adopt a turtle! Not only will you be giving that special person a unique gift, but you are also helping to support the Turtle Hospital in their work.
If you have a trip planned to the Florida Keys, stop in and visit the Turtle Hospital and take part in one of their public turtle releases! A unique way to learn about the fragile ecosystem, and some of the residents who call the waters around Florida home.
The Turtle Hospital
(Hidden Harbor Marine Environmental Project, Inc.)
2396 Overseas Highway
Marathon, FL 33050
My Photo Gallery of the Turtle Hospital, Marathon, Florida
A special thanks to The Turtle Hospital for the hospitality and having us. We did not receive any other form of compensation for this post. As with all posts on this site, all opinions and conclusions are unbiased and 100% my own.
For more Florida fun and adventures, check out 5 Reasons to Visit Fort Pierce for Awesome Adventure, A Hidden Gem Found in Fort Pierce's Farmers Market, Out of My Comfort Zone: Snorkeling Dry Rocks in the Florida Keys, and Great Food, Great Vibes at Boat Yard Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
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