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Who Doesn’t LOVE Sea Turtles? A MUST Visit in the Keys

Thursday December 24, 2015                                              Most Recent Posts:
Long Key State Park                                                            Final Visit to Key West – 6-Toed Cats
Layton, Florida                                                                    Winter Solstice 2015 – What a Wonderful Day!




I’m up at dawn looking unsuccessfully for a sunrise.   What I find is dark clouds to the horizon squashing what little color there is





No sunrise but the winds are as usual, enough to blow you out of your chair.




Doesn’t take long for the rain to start.




So I wait inside looking for the sunrise that doesn’t happen.   Well at least not where I can see it.




When the rain quits, I find that while there is no color in the east, there is in the west behind Winnona.





With sketchy weather again we take on an indoor activity for part of the day. 


When it got close to Carrie’s visit, I finally got around to researching the touristy sounding Crane Point, Dolphin Research Center and Turtle Hospital, all in Marathon Florida. After reading about them all, I determined that the only one I was willing to vote for with my money was The Turtle Hospital.  Even with its $22 admission for a 90 minute tour, I haven’t changed my mind.



Apparently a lot of people agree with me.  I made reservations for the 1:00 tour and we arrive about 15 minutes ahead of time to fill out the liability forms and look around at the information.





There is just an amazing amount of information on the walls of this one room.  Life size pictures of all of the different types of sea turtles.  Carrie is standing next to the largest, the Leatherback.  She’s 5’4” tall and might be the same height as this turtle.  Behind her is all the information on the Leatherback.




The tour starts with a video and discussion by our guide who gives us a lot of information about the history of the hospital and its work as well as discussing the major types of turtles brought to them.  She then highlights what brings the turtles in and of course all the causes are human.  Tangled in careless fishing line or nets, hit by boats, swallow fish hooks are just some of the causes.  She shows 3 and 4” fish hooks swallowed by turtles and stuck in their throats or tearing up their stomachs and intenstines.  It is just so sad that sportsmen are so careless or callous.




Becasue there is no surgery going on today, we are able to see both operating rooms.  It’s amazing the costly equipment they’ve been able to buy.  She tells us one turtle even had an MRI at nearby Fishermen’s Community Hospital.   The Turtle Hospital has special ambulances to rescue, transport  and provide care for the turtles.  We can see very clearly what a mighty expensive set up they have created for helping the Sea Turtles.








Our guide is particularly excited to show us the pictures of all the turtles helped and released this year.  Look at the number of pictures.  I am dumbfounded over this.   Their most recent rescue was just two days ago and their last release was just last week.








AND one of their current patients, Laurie, will be released on Saturday at Sombrero Beach. Boy would I LOVE to see that but unfortunately it is happening at exactly the same time we need to have Carrie at the airport in Key West for her trip home.

FOR SURE if we ever return to the Keys we will return here and find out when they are releasing rehabed turtles.

Here is Laurie’s story from the announcement of her release.  She is a sub-adult loggerhead.  A man named Raymond Tencelski was driving across Long Key bridge earlier this month when he spotted a sea turtle entangled in a trap line on the Gulf side.  He immediately called The Turtle Hospital for help.  Within minutes of the call Turtle Hospital enlisted help from the US Coast Guard Marathon Station and a vessel was underway to the endangered turtle.  Turtle Hospital rehabilitation specialist Courtney Abbs was able to cut the turtle free from the trap line and Coast Guard personnel lifted the turtle onto the ship.  There were minor wounds on the entangled flipper.  Laurie was treated at the hospital with a broad spectrum antibiotic, vitamins and a healthy diet of squid and fish.  Raymond named the turtle Laurie in honor of his wife owner of Laurie’s Deli from which we purchased our tasty Solstice breakfast pastries.   What a great caring community working together to save this threatened turtle.

An ambulance will be used for the release as well.  Sure wish I could see her headed back out to sea.



After the presentation we move on to see the hospital residents.  The first two tanks have all Green Turtles who have had tumors removed from their bodies.  They look wonderful now but the before pictures are quite gruesome as you can see below. 

The disease which causes these tumors on their eyes, flippers and internal organs is called Fibropapillomatosis.  It is the leading cause of death in Green Sea Turtles.  Excess nitrogen from polluted urban and farm fertilizers and other run off accumulates in the algae the turtles eat and causes the disease and thus the tumors.   Another reason why eating organic food is important and so is giving up on the world’s most perfect lawn.  Plant wildflowers or vegetables instead.




These turtles have to remain in the tanks for a year before they can be released since the tumors often recur as long as the disease is in their system.  So these guys are “serving their time”.













As you can see, Green Turtles are not always green and most of them have their names written on their shells.





Gator has a bite out of her shell.








After seeing the tumor free Green Turtles we head outside to the tanks which have the turtles with other injuries.




In the first pool is a turtle with lockjaw.  Rusty hooks or who knows what.  We get a real treat at the end of the tour when we see him getting help to eat.





Turtles with weights to help balance them as their shells heal.





A turtle with a bandaged shell.




Tiny little hatchlings that have been found heading in the wrong direction, probably due to light pollution blocking their sense of direction by the stars.  They are kept here to allow them to get a little bigger before being released into the sea.







So cute!   You just want to pick them up but no no!






The Turtle Hospital is a former hotel and this is its tidal swimming pool now a tank for turtles with what is called “bubble butt”.

Many turtles injured or killed by consuming debris, have had plastic bags or fishing line in their stomach. In her presentation earlier our guide showed us actual hooks and lines found in turtle intestines as well as a display of plastics which turtles have eaten and have caused them injuries.

  Sea turtles are especially susceptible to the effects of consuming our carelessly disgarded trash and fishing debris due to their bodies' own structure. They have downward facing spines in their throats which prevent the possibility of regurgitation. The plastics get trapped in their stomach, which prevents them from properly swallowing food.  "Bubble butts," are part of this problem.  Sea Turtles float as a result of trapped gas caused by harmful decomposition of marine debris inside a turtle's body. The gases cause the turtle to float, which leads to starvation or makes them an easy target for predators.   The gasses cause bubbles in their shells.






Here you can see how it came to be called “bubble butt”.



This is the end of the tour but our guide graciously hangs around and answers many questions.  As usual, we three are among the last to leave and it sure pays off when one of the rehab specialists comes to feed the turtle with lock jaw.  The turtle is barely able to open his mouth and needs some assistance.  It looked like long handled needle nose pliers being used to put the squid in the turtle’s mouth.



With every bite, the turtle needs less and less help. 




After the wonderful tour we spend some time in the museum looking at all the life size replicas of the turtles and the information about each one.



Love this picture of the tracks the turtles make coming up on the sand to lay their eggs.  They look as big as tractor tracks.  I would love to see them in person.


This map of the nesting beaches in the world shows how relatively few places turtles frequent.


This one shows how many are in the Florida/Bahamas/Central and Northern South America area.


On our way out the door Carrie and I look at their lovely Christmas tree with turtle ornaments.  If I had a regular size tree I would definitely have bought one. They are just normal ornament size but about 5X the size of the ornaments on Winnona’s tree.





This one is hand tooled leather.


After spending a few hours at this the largest Sea Turtle Hospital in the U.S., we unanimously think that everyone who comes to the Keys must go there and support this wonderful nonprofit organization.  Wish I’d done this at least twice while we were here.


Back home it’s a relaxing time by the water with books.  But hold on to your hat.



Just after sunset we hear emergency sirens.  We think they are on Route 1 paralleling the campground but they keep coming closer so we go outside and sure enough they are coming down the campground road.  Oh no!  What has happened??



Since it is dusk, they have their lights on so we don’t see Santa until he is nearly past.   What a riot!  The local fire department has their own parade and Santa is up top and waving to everyone shouting HO HO HO!  MERRY CHRISTMAS!






All the way down the road they go to the circle.  It definitely brings everyone out.



And then back they come again.



All you can see is Carrie and David’s arms waving to Santa and his Elf on their way by.  In our 5 years of full timing, we’ve never been in a campground at Christmas which had a parade until now.  What a hoot!   Everyone is laughing and smiling.




Not sure why they needed their lights with this big full moon spotlight in the sky. 
What a beautiful ending to another wonderful day.



  1. A terrific post on the sea turtle hospital. Went on a wee hours of the morning turtle walk with a researcher on Longboat Key and saw loggerhead turtle tracks. They are HUGE but we didn't see the turtle. It's a wonderful community and state effort to support the turtles. Glad you enjoyed it so much!

  2. I am glad to see they rescued so many yet saddened there were so many. It is sick what we do to our planet and inhabitants. Must be a costly operation. Certainly worth the $22 or more. And what a pleasant surprise to be visited by Santa.

  3. What a wonderful visit to the turtle hospital! I have passed it but never been there. Did you hear that we had loggerhead turtles confused by the warm waters in the Pacific near the shoreline on the Oregon Coast?? Much farther north than they usually roam. This winter heat bulge, plus El Nino is really making things crazy. One of the best things about Florida are the Christmas parades, especially the boat parades. Your post was wonderful, but it made me miss Bel. I used to go there at Christmas and we would go to the local parades.

  4. We passed the Turtle Hospital many times, but never stopped. Next trip it is on our TODOS list!!! Would also love to see one released:o)) Love the Santa Parade through the campground...seems like a very KEYS kind of thing!!!

  5. Thank you for your fascinating post.

  6. They do turtle releases down here, but we've only heard of them after the fact. I liked their FB page so hopefully we will get advanced warning next time. That will certainly be a nice change from seeing them lying dead on a beach in Mississippi a few years ago.

  7. We have never visited the turtle hospital since we've been to several others. It looks like they do great work. I thought I was going to have to call them last May when we saw the 3 turtles mating and we thought they were tangled in fishing net or something. After seeing how intent they were on their mating process and oblivious to boats, I can certainly see how they get hit by boats. Sea turtles are amazing creatures and we've swam with many of them over the years.

  8. What an amazing organization and hospital! Thanks for the excellent tour, details, and photos. The turtles are just beautiful. It is so sad to see how many have had to be rescued with injuries. Glad someone found them, though:) We got to swim with the Green Turtles while snorkeling in the Caribbean. Another great day for Carrie:)

    Did you get my email with Kindle book suggestions?

  9. Great post. Will be a must see next time we are in that neck of the woods. Love turtles.

  10. Very educational, and they're beautiful animals.

  11. Excellent description of a wonderful facility and their staff at work helping out our turtle friends. Our guide was really great, knowing each turtles' story and able to answer all questions regarding their efforts. Truly a great work and well worth supporting. Increased awareness should help in the long run.

  12. What a wonderful place to support and visit! You got wonderful pics of all the turtles, the babies are so cute. I know humans have decimated so many species, but seeing the multiple ways we damage just sea turtles alone is so depressing. Don't know that we'll ever learn, but I'm thankful for great places like this hospital. Thanks for sharing it. Love the Santa fire truck parade!!

  13. Okay, you know how little inconsistencies catch my eye. Check out the paragraph by the picture of Carrie and the large turtle. I think maybe you mixed up Loggerhead and Leatherback.

    1. Inattention to detail on my part. Thank goodness for you Judy. I've fixed it.

  14. I took my grandsons to the turtle hospital on Jekyll Island in Georgia after they studied sea turtles in school and were interested in the efforts to protect the injured turtles. It's so sad that these hospitals are needed from mankind's carelessness. Thank goodness for people that have stepped up and run hospitals like these for our turtle friends.

    PS: We have "Save the Sea Turtles" stickers on the back of our tow car, bought by our grandsons. :c)

  15. This is a wonderful post, Sherry. What an incredible job the Turtle Hospital is doing in rehabilitating the turtles and educating people. Next time we're in the Keys, we'll be sure to go there. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  16. We have a sea turtle rescue group here also. We see them along the shoreline here regularly. We particularly like to watch them for the fishing pier as you get a great view of them in the water.

  17. Just like Paul Dahl, we went to the Sea Turtle Hospital in Jekyll Island. It is such a fascinating place, with so much to learn about those amazing creatures. Nice post!

  18. Oh my gosh! TURTLES! I love this post and I would've loved to see this place! How do they remove the tumors on the turtles or do surgery? They would have to cut through their underside- I don't guess they'd cut their shells would they? Interesting, and sad, that the plastic and stuff they ingest causes them to float and then get bubbles on their shells. Laurie is beautiful as are the other green turtles. How cool to watch them swim around in their tank! Putting weights on the turtle with the broken shell to balance him was interesting. I guess that their shells grow back together when they are damaged? The white ornament with the turtle painted on it is lovely. What a wonderful place! Well worth the $22 admission I'd say! I sat with our friend, Jackie, and some other turtle group people by a few nests waiting for them to hatch but none did. Jackie and others ride on the beach in ATVs finding and keeping track of nests on the beaches. This post made me happy! Thanks for sharing. I'm going to figure out how to send it to Jackie and to my Dad and friend, Die, and her daughter who has a PHD in Marine Biology. xxxooo

  19. Fantastic post about a fantastic place! They really are doing good work there - memorable experience indeed!!

  20. I really enjoyed all the info about the turtles and the hospital. $22 is steep but not when it goes to such a great cause!!


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